The Grudge [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (12th March 2020).
The Film

According to Japanese lore, when someone dies in extreme rage or sorrow, a curse is born bearing that grudge, which kills anyone who comes into contact with the place in which the person died, following its victims home and reproducing itself in the rage of their own death throes. The 2020 film The Grudge – subtitled "The Untold Chapter" on the poster art but not the film itself – posits that the curse of the Saeki family happened in Japan as it did in the 2004 film of the same title (an American remake of the superior 2002 feature film spin-off of the 2000 Toei made-for-video films Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2, all helmed by Takashi Shimizu), but that American social worker Fiona Landers (A Haunting at Silver Falls' Tara Westwood), who had been working with the Williams family who inhabited the Saeki house, was followed home to Cross River, Pennsylvania by the evil after passing off the case to Yoko who was first seen visiting the Williams family in the 2004 film. In 2006, we meet Muldoon (Mandy's Andrea Riseborough) who has moved to Cross River with her son Burke (John J. Hansen) after her husband's death from cancer. She becomes the new partner of burnout Detective Goodman (The Hateful Eight's Demián Bichir), and their first case is that of a mummified body found in a car left undiscovered for over a year on a closed service road. The identity turns out to be that of assisted suicide consultant Lorna Moody (Stoker's Jacki Weaver) who had last visited 44 Reyburn Drive: the Landers house. Upon hearing this, Goodman is eager to turn the case over to the Feds and wash his hands of it; however, Muldoon wants to know about the Landers case which a co-worker tells her Goodman managed to work without ever setting foot in the house. Visiting the house, she discovers the decomposing body of the house's subsequent owner William Matheson (Maximum Overdrive's Frankie Faison) and his dementia-stricken wife Faith (Insidious' Lin Shaye) who Muldoon believes has killed her husband. Looking into the Landers case, she discovers that Fiona had murdered her husband Sam (Channel Zero: Candle Cove's David Lawrence Brown) and daughter Melinda (I Still See You's Zoe Fish) before committing suicide. In addition to this, she looks into the case of the house's realtors Peter (Searching's John Cho) and Nina Spencer (Ghost Town's Betty Gilpin) who sold the house to the Landers family but comes up against Goodman when she wants to pursue an investigation into Faith Matheson and Lorna Moody. Goodman, whose former partner Detective Wilson (The Mist's William Sadler) had set foot in the house and was mentally affected by it, warns her to let the case go, but she too has started seeing strange and threatening apparitions and is not sure whether she is cracking up or whether she has provoked something evil that could hurt her and her young son.

A fourth installment to the American The Grudge series – probably the least impressive project mounted by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures – was announced as early as 2011, with a completed screenplay by Jeff Buhler (he of the subsequent terrible Pet Sematary and Jacob's Ladder remakes) announced in 2014, but little more was heard about it until 2018 when director Nicolas Pesce was announced along with the principal cast. Shooting took place the same year with reshoots in 2019 and a short theatrical release in January 2020. While the 2004 film was no great shakes, and the two direct-to-video sequels The Grudge 2 and The Grudge 3 were even worse, the long-in-coming "untold chapter" is as pointless a sequel as it is a sort of reboot. Anyone familiar with the Japanese and American films will be slogging through the film wondering not about the dynamics of the character relationships but more so about how they are going to die onscreen – and the film's only novelty is the upped gore quotient courtesy of Toby Lindala (of several CW TV series including Supernatural) – while those new to the films will find no suspense in the family tragedy backstories or the threats to children by the living and the dead, but may find the non-linear storytelling confusing even though the film tries to better tie it together through Muldoon's investigation (even though the flashbacks make her privy to stuff that happened to the Spencers and the Mathesons that she could not have learned from case files). Attempts at emotional resonance fall flat, from the bonding between the Mathesons and Lorna over the admission that the violent apparitions in the house are nevertheless proof of survival after death to Goodman warning Muldoon not to try to distract herself from her grief by delving into the case. Performances range from grating (Riseborough and Shaye) to ineffectual (most of the cast including the usually better Cho and Weaver, the latter more entertaining in the superior Australian haunted house film Haunt) to downright bad (Bichir and unfortunately Sadler). Director Pesce made himself a name in the genre for the pretentious The Eyes of My Mother, but that film at least had a vivid visual style of its own. The visual stylization Pesce indulges in here is entirely of the genre cliché variety from the omnipresent rain, sodium vapor-heavy lighting, sinister kids, protagonists who should be compelling haunted but just come across as glum, and genre signifier Shaye who turned in some effective genre performers but whose habit of taking virtually any horror film offered to her these days is as much suggestive of a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers or their producers as casting Saw's Tobin Bell in a guest role; not to mention a jump scare so simplistically executed in Mario Bava's Shock/Beyond the Door II that has since been recreated with digital augmentation in Sinister 2 and The Prodigy before this. Whether it is taken as a sequel or a reboot, The Grudge offers nothing new to the initiated and will seem overfamiliar even to audiences unfamiliar with the series.
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Video

Sony's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray is more than up to the task of containing the film's low-lit look with its bottomless blacks and likely some bits that were darkened in post to obscure the seams of make-up effects and CGI. Detail is good even under the lighting conditions, and some of the night exteriors have some nice depth like the various establishing shots of the Landers house in the various timelines.
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Audio

The surround mix is nothing special, in that it is very active and has depth, but every cliché element of surround mix for a horror film is in place here, so much so that the famous "death rattle" effect has little presence amidst the rear channel rumblings, directional scares, and scoring. The surround mix is offered up in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. English and French Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 are also included along with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
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Extras

As expected, the extra features of this troubled feature are mainly obligatory EPK stuff. In "Designing Death" (3:03), the cast and crew discuss the look of the ghosts and the progressive revelations of their decayed features while "Cast of the Cursed" (3:44) features the cast discussing working with Pesce, and "Easter Egg Haunt" (4:47) has Pesce pointing out the callbacks in the film to the 2004 film. Most surprising are a half hour of deleted scenes (30:07) but they consist of a couple self-contained scenes and a lot of extensions to scenes in the finished film. The most interesting of the scenes reveal that as awful as Bichir is in the finished film, the deleted scenes do better impart a character content to remain ignorant about dangerous things in favor of things that matter more like Muldoon's loneliness and how her workaholic attitude is affecting her son who he babysits a couple times here. The sequence in which Peter Spencer visits the house's attic is more eventful but adds nothing, and the same can be said for Faith's suicide attempts, but I did find it difficult to decide whether the alternate ending or the more unimaginative one in the feature was actually better. The disc also offers up previews which are the same as the start-up trailers, three of which (Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Blumhouse's Fantasy Island, and Bloodshot) have me despairing of what Sony has to offer in the new year.
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Packaging

The disc case comes with a slipcover and a digital copy code.

Overall

Whether it is taken as a sequel or a reboot, The Grudge offers nothing new to the initiated and will seem overfamiliar even to audiences unfamiliar with the series.

 


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