During the early 2000’s there was a horror renaissance in America. J-horror (or Japanese horror) had started to make its mark. Hollywood saw the potential in these supernatural horror films and the remakes were terrifying American audiences. Some of the most popular of these Americanized films included The Ring (2002), Dark Water (2005) and One Missed Call (2008). The films also came during that transition to PG-13 for bigger, broader appeal. That meant pushing the PG-13 envelope as far as it could go without breaking into an R rating. But one film had drowning children, cats stabbed to death, necks broken, and jaws ripped off. It was in 2004 when one of the most terrifying Japanese horror films graced us with its presence. I am, of course, referring to The Grudge.
But what makes The Grudge so frightening? When people think of J-horror in the early 2000’s they typically think of The Ring because of how big an impact it had on our culture. It was the first time many people had even watched J-horror. But in reality The Grudge is much more terrifying than some girl in a well.
Writer/ director Taskashi Shimizu released Ju-on: The Grudge in 2002. His previous installments Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2 were only released on VOD but when Ju-on: The Grudge was unleashed it made huge waves around the world. The rights were bought by Sony Pictures after seeing the success of the original film overseas paired with The Ring‘s success domestically. Takashi Shimizu was brought along to direct the English version and armed with a bigger budget, and a star studded cast, he was ready to frighten America.
The Grudge is very similar to it’s Japanese counterpart, maintaining the same concept with a few structural changes to the story. A woman and her child were are by her husband after he discovers her romantic fascination with her college professor Peter (Bill Pullman). Since Kayako (Takako Fuji) and her son Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) were murdered in such a horrific way, a curse remained behind in the wake of their tragic end. Anyone who has contact with the house is stained with the curse.
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Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has come into contact with the house and she is trying to survive the inevitable and break the curse. The rest of the film is showing out of order vignettes of different people who have come into contact with the house and what has happened to them. So in short, a lot of different people getting brutally murdered by a terrifying ghost.
What makes The Grudge so effective is that there is nothing you can do to stop the curse. All it takes is stepping inside the house or as we find out in the sequels, saying Hello to anyone who has been in the house. No matter how hard you run or hide, Kayako will find you and kill you in a horrific manner. Way scarier than a creepy videotape, right? There’s no Eject button on a curse. Plus, that dumb tape gives you 7 days to live! In The Grudge there is no way to stop the curse, and no way of knowing when Kayako will come for you.
In the end we learn that Kayako places this terrible curse on whoever she pleases because she had a crush on her teacher. But does that make her rage acceptable? Does she earn the right to kill at will because of it? Do we have sorrow for her character even though she does terrible things to good people? Should she have been killed for her indiscretion? Her reasoning behind it is because she wants the world to feel the same pain and torment that she felt. The same pain of being helpless and murdered as her son watched. This brings a humanity to her character, one that not many horror villains have. We feel bad for how she was treated but cannot condone her actions. It tears the viewer from feeling pity for her and instead instills sadness for her victims.
One of the biggest differences between The Grudge and The Ring is that the latter brought the story to an America setting. It brought a certain familiarity to it’s audience and that took away from the mysticism. By keeping the story of The Grudge in Japan, it kept that uncertainty of a different culture. Being in a foreign place with no understanding of a language can be frightening. But having a killer ghost after you is even worse. For instance, there is a scene where Kayako is chasing after Susan (KayDee Strickland). She escapes to the security office in her building but as she is trying to catch her breath, she is desperately trying to explain what she saw. But she can only talk in broken Japanese and the fear and frustration wear her down completely.
The curse took hold of America on October 22, 2004. On its opening weekend it had made $39 million dollars, off of a budget of $10 million. Over its time in theaters the film grossed $187 million dollars worldwide. It opened to mixed reviews from critics and maintains a 49 point Metascore and a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite those ratings, it is still known as the second highest grossing horror remake behind The Ring. A sequel was greenlit the Monday after the opening weekend because of the surprise success of the film and would later go on to spawn another. The reboot was announced earlier this year, and is currently scheduled for release in 2019.
Regardless of what the critics have to say about the film, the horrors of The Grudge have always stuck with viewers. When asked about The Grudge people can remember where they were when they saw the film for the first time. The croaking of Kayako’s throat, the hissing and meowing of her son before they claimed their next victim. This was a movie that would not let you go because no matter how far you ran or where you hid, she would come for you.