The Grudge (2004) – Film Review

Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar) moves to Tokyo, where she encounters a supernatural spirit that possesses its victims. After a series of horrifying and mysterious deaths, Karen makes a vow to stop any further deaths.

Horror is my all time favorite genre of film, as many of you might have known if you have been following me for many years now. My all-time favorite film is Ari Aster’s 2018 feature Hereditary, and my second favorite is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Whenever I get the opportunity to watch a horror movie that I have not seen before, I snatch up the chance to do so, because I find that horror is not only the most entertaining genre for me, but it is also the genre that has the most innovation, thrills and excitement.

So many filmmakers are able to do so much with horror, such as Jordan Peele with Get Out. Ever since I was young, I had heard so much about a movie called The Grudge, and the title always fascinated me. What could this story be about? What has made it such a beloved movie over the years, and what is so special about this? Unfortunately, I found myself asking the same questions after watching this movie today.

Jason Behr (left) as Doug McCarthy and Sarah Michelle Gellar (right) as Karen Davis in The Grudge (2004).

I have never seen the movie until today, in preparation for the brand new 2020 reboot releasing in theatres this Friday. I had expected this to be a rather interesting horror picture, and it was to some extent, but it severely lacked substance. It constantly seemed as if the filmmakers had tried to set up a compelling story, but were not sure of where to take it, so they attempted to put as much strange imagery in the movie in hopes to entertain the masses.

For a horror movie, this is surprisingly tame too. In fact, some part of me hesitates to even call this a horror movie, because a large portion of The Grudge feels so much like a typical crime/mystery film more than anything. I would be okay with this if the story was interesting or thought-provoking like it tries to be, but it just isn’t.

This movie is the definition of style over substance. The characters here barely get any development except for Gellar’s Karen Davis, who I did actually root for the whole time. Her acting was really great here and I wish that she was in the movie a bit more too. The other character I actually liked is Detective Nakagawa, portrayed by Ryo Ishibashi, who delivers not only the best performance in the film, but a really terrific performance overall.

His performance is way too good for this movie. He can be equal parts mysterious and interesting to watch on screen, while also being calm and collected. We do learn a little bit about him and his past which was a delight. He is hands down the best actor in The Grudge.

Ryo Ishibashi as Detective Nakagawa in The Grudge (2004).

Don’t get me wrong, The Grudge is not all bad. There are definitely plenty of things to like here. Like I said, the acting, mainly by Gellar and Ishibashi is truly great and their characters do get some development, unlike some of the other characters in the film. Additionally, the score by Christopher Young is really strong during certain key moments and makes for some eerie listening. It’s also a movie that has some remarkably strong editing by Jeff Betancourt. There were a number of sequences that utilize some impressive scene transitions, and I found myself actually really enjoying a lot of those.

Overall though, The Grudge was an extremely underwhelming picture for me. The best word I can use to describe the film as a whole would be bland. It is not an awful movie by any means, but as a horror movie it doesn’t succeed and while the story can be a bit interesting during a few moments, it ultimately falls flat.

Although The Grudge boasts great performances from Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryo Ishibashi, it lacks an interesting story and doesn’t deliver the thrills.

Overall Grade: C-

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality

Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall, Bill Pullman

Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Running Time: 92 minutes

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