Readers’ Choice: The Grudge (2004)

“It is said in Japan that when a person dies in extreme sorrow or rage, the emotion remains, becoming a stain upon that place. Death becomes part of that place, killing everything it touches. Once you have become a part of it, it will never let you go” – The Grudge (2004)

This week, I reached out once again to my readers on social media to choose the next movie from my watchlist to watch for the first time. Among the five psychological horror films that ended up as nominees, The Grudge (2004) received the most votes. I am very behind on the Japanese horror in my watchlists, so this outcome worked out well for me.

The Grudge is based on the Japanese horror film Ju-on (2002) by the same director (Takashi Shimizu). The primary character is an American nursing student named Karen (I know, I know) living in Japan, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Karen volunteers for a home care company, and she is called in to take care of an elderly American woman after her regular caregiver disappears. When caring for her new patient, Karen meets a mysterious young boy named Toshio. She also encounters an otherworldly presence that threatens everyone in its path.

After her own near-fatal experience with this presence that has apparently claimed several lives already, Karen decides to look into it herself. She investigates the deaths of multiple people who had died in the area over the past few years. She discovers that each person was connected to the next in some way. The quote included at the beginning of this post sums it up perfectly. The pain and suffering from the first murder (which involved the killing of Toshio and his mother, Kayako a few years previously) led to a chain of more murders and lost souls. The figure constantly changes, for it takes on the form of its victims as a vehicle to hunt the next one. Its main form in this story is that of Kayako, who chooses to haunt Karen indefinitely after the latter enters the house for the first time.

To my surprise, several parts of this movie reminded me of “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe. Aside from there being an actual black cat in this movie, there are multiple instances of victims (and parts of victims) found hidden away in the intricate architecture of the Japanese homes. I found this and other, similar atmospheric aspects much more intriguing than the lukewarm jump scares and predictable spectral appearances. Fair warning: the storyline that explains the presence is nonlinear, which is not for everyone. It is easy enough to follow, but it is an unusual choice for a horror film.

I was also glad to see that so much of Japanese culture was kept in this movie, especially considering this is technically the American remake. I love watching international horror films, and it is the unique cultural influences, artifacts, and characteristics present in films from around the world that make their stories what they are. I know there is a lot of interest in creating American remakes of many successful international horror films. After watching The Grudge, the only way I will get on board is if filmmakers take a similar approach and keep the cultural influences of the original as present as possible.

What I appreciated most about this movie was its portrayal of the impact of pain and suffering over time and across many people. This trend in horror films did not come about consistently until the 2010s. I was far from scared watching The Grudge, but I still enjoyed its unique approach to storytelling. One of the many reasons I love checking out horror stories from other cultures is experiencing the variety of storytelling techniques and characteristics that come from people experiencing a different world than I do. These readers’ choice weeks have introduced me to many films I would normally have put off watching. I am excited to see what more is out there to both entertain me and inspire me while I expand this blog.

Until next time,

Jordan

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