Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge hits theatres this weekend, welcoming cinema-goers to a new year of horror movies. Featuring probably the strongest cast the franchise has ever seen, the film is as light on story as it is heavy on new ideas to anchor itself in stateside folklore. Pesce, tapped for the project after his indie darling Eyes of My Mother (2016), filters the beloved beats of Kayako‘s J-Horror roots through America’s dream for what a Home can represent without ever fully plunging into the darkness that his villain is capable of.
Admittedly, I am not an authority on The Grudge franchise. I haven’t even seen the 2004 Americanized remake despite my early teenage love for Sarah Michelle Geller’s scared face (hello, Scream 2). But I was certain this fault in my character would surely shine through as my greatest strength in the third act of my heroic journey to the local multiplex where I would surely go to battle with a dedicated online fanbase that had decided their Letterboxd ratings before purchasing a ticket. I think optimism on the part of the audience goes a long way in the reception of a film, but the rest is on the movie itself to show you that it’s got the goods. The Grudge is a hefty burlap sack with a freshly painted dollar sign on it, but inside it’s filled with wet hair where gold should be.
After following a careworker home from Tokyo, a spirit turns a once pleasant home into a supernatural sinkhole of death and despair, infecting all that dare step foot inside. This vengeful spirit seeks to spread its misery after having fallen victim to a violent death. Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) is new to town and refuses to take everyone’s vague warnings as anything more than silly superstition and digs deeper into the mystery after another death is linked to 44 Reyburn Drive. Her partner, Detective Goodman (Demian Bichir), does all that he can to huff and puff her away from her investigation but his stubborn refusal only adds fuel to her fire. So, of course, Detective Muldoon takes the first available opportunity to visit this local house-of-horrors where she promptly becomes the spirits new plaything.
Respecting its origins, the film plays fast and loose with timelines as we follow several sets of characters that have been marked for death by the vengeful spirit. A decision that I’m not sure really added much to the overall presentation of the story. John Cho (Searching) and Betty Gilpin (Glow) show us the cruel nature of the spirit, while Lin Shaye (Insidious) and Frankie Faison (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) give us time to wax philosophical about the afterlife. Somewhere that’s supposed to tie back into how Detective Muldoon will save the day, but mostly they are detours that lead to dead ends. Each of these storylines served more as recurring vignettes for scares that got more of a reaction from a girl sitting two-seats down from me than it did the rest of my sold-out screening.
Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge has some interesting observations about how even skeptical Americans see a home’s history as something sacred that can be feared but not forgotten. It also features a brilliantly subtle scare in the opening minutes that maybe set too high of a bar for the rest of the film, as well as a horribly disfigured William Sadler who’s face presents as much sorrow as it does scar tissue. But Pesce’s final product leaves a powerhouse cast absolutely underutilized in another retelling of what fans have long referred to as a property that no person should dare tread upon.
The Grudge is in theatres now! Have you made the cold trek out to your local multiplex for the first major horror release of 2020? Let us know your thoughts on The Grudge over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club. We’ll also be releasing a full-spoiler discussion of the film on Patreon if you’d like to hear our full thoughts on every little detail of Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge.