[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 13 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Grudge 2 (2006)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Edison Chen, Sarah Roemer, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
102 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.

It only took three days after the release of the American version of The Grudge for this film to be greenlit. Then, it spent close to a year in development hell before finally gracing screens on a Friday the 13th in 2006. Now, 15 years later, this notorious reviewer known for his distaste of J-horror remakes tackles The Grudge 2!

Immediately following the events of the first film, The Grudge 2 continues the tale of the spreading curse of evil that has attached itself to Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Now, Karen’s sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Nostalgia) is headed to Tokyo in search of her sister…and answers, but the Grudge is a continually spreading curse which has also attached itself to a group of schoolgirls and a family living in an apartment complex in America, but how do all these pieces fit together?

This seems like a hot take, so stay with me while I explain myself: I think this is my favorite of the American Grudge films. It’s not amazing by any means but this film feels closest to what the original Ju-On films were. It seems, to me at least, to improve on many of the faults of the first film. Again, I don’t really think these movies are scary at all, but this is at least the most engaging story and overall viewing experience of the four American films.

Let’s address my faults with the first film. First of all, as I mentioned, the first American Grudge is just not scary. The sequel isn’t either, but I did have one moment that worked for me in the later portion of the movie. I also think that the atmosphere and structure of the sequel work to deliver some decent unnerving quality that affected me. The ASMR ghost thing still mostly fails to deliver on frights, but this is a much moodier picture.

The nonlinear style of storytelling here is the film’s best asset. It caused me to really invest in the narrative as I tried to wrap my head around connecting the various pieces of the film. I’m not sure if any of these narrative threads would work on their own, and by the time the film was at an end, I was losing a bit of drive in answering my questions, but it kept my focus more than any other American Grudge film. The first film’s focus on Karen was its downfall.

You can also tell that director Takashi Shimizu (Homunculus, Suicide Forest Village) is having more fun in his playground this time around. As opposed to the first film, which is a fairly close remake of the original, this sequel allows him to tries some new things and tell an original story again. The Grudge 2 isn’t a remake of the second Ju-On film as some would believe, but it actually takes more from the Jurassic Park sequels in picking and choosing elements from the source material to include (the JP films played a lot with unused material from Crichton’s books, but you get what I mean). Shimizu pulls elements from Ju-On: The Curse and the more well-known Ju-On: The Grudge, and even grabbed some elements from the Japanese short films that preceded the Ju-On series. With that, there’s a more interesting sandbox feeling to this film, which Shimizu himself admitted to enjoying more than the first film. For someone who directed every single installment of the franchise up to this point (up until 2009 for the direct-to-DVD sequel The Grudge 3), he really knows his world and has an interesting tale to give us.

This sequel still struggles to give us worthy performances from any of its cast, and I know many of them are capable of more than we’re getting. It’s helpful that the nonlinear storyline doesn’t give us any one lead so we aren’t stuck with anyone for too long and it allowed me to invest in the story more instead (not a win, but at least an ever-so-slight improvement).

The Grudge 2 is not the holy grail of horror films, but there is a renewed excitement for what’s to come next (at least until you see what came next), and the film is engaging and interesting with a moody texture and some surprising narrative choices. Sadly, it underperformed so hard that Sony cancelled the Blu-Ray release of the film. In fact, the film still, to this day, does not have a Blu-Ray release because of its performance at the box office. You might say that Sony knows how to hold a…Grudge? All joking aside, the film is a mess but that’s kind of the point, and it understands its messiness better than the previous entry and way better than the latter American installments. It may not win you over, but if you liked the previous installment, give this one a try…on DVD.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, click here.
  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, click here.

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