Takeshi Shimizu's two versions of The Grudge--the original, Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge and the American remake The Grudge--both have relative merits, but they are decidedly underwhelming films. The archetypal haunted house story might be more effective as a campfire story which takes ten minutes to tell or a fair attraction which takes ten minutes to walk through, but as a 90-minute movie, it's a crushing bore with a handful of inventive shocks.
Shimizu's American remake throws American actors--most recognizably Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman--into the same steadfastly somnabulistic acting style and character-deficient plot as the original. The presence of Pullman (Lost Highway) and Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer's mother from Twin Peaks) signals Shimizu's admiration for David Lynch, who knows something Shimizu doesn't: how to make long lulls and minimalism magnetic instead of boring.
Where rage-filled murder takes place, the rage stays behind and kills more people: hence, the grudge. The unresolved victims of past murders linger as wraiths and poltergeists, consuming hapless victims--like Gellar's social worker Karen--who are unfortunate enough to step into the haunted house. William Mapother, Clea Duvall, and the original cast's Yuya Ozeki and Takako Fuji are among the other victims. Since the remake, penned by Stephen Susco, likewise takes place in Tokyo, a mildly intriguing stranger-in-a-strange-land element pervades the absurd fatalism of the American characters.
The American The Grudge streamlines the "plot" and picks up the pace (believe it or not), but the first film's willful confusions threw Ju-On: The Grudge more scarily off-balance. Here, the rules are clear: you go in the damn(ed) house, you die. Eventually, the grudge is gonna get ya. With genuine tension out the window, The Grudge becomes a bland waiting game between the good parts: freaky ghosts appearing out of nowhere and imaginatively consuming victims.
[NOTE: The unrated director's cut is preferable, adding a bit more "oomph" to the horror and a bit more tension to the suspense sequences with approximately seven added minutes.]
Grudge fans can now enjoy the 2004 American remake in Blu-ray, and Sony again provides the A/V quality we've come to expect: a sharp image that happily doesn't crush the film's shadows into a grey paste, and a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix that crucially retains the film's carefully orchestrated scary soundscape. The Blu-ray can also be viewed as definitive, given the large quantity of quality bonus features and the inclusion of both the Theatrical Cut and the Unrated Cut that adds seven minutes.
The Theatrical Cut comes with commentary by writer Stephen Susco, producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert and actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland and Ted Raimi, and the Extended Cut, which comes with commentary by director Takashi Shimizu, producer Taka Ichise and actress Takako Fuji. Because the latter commentary comes in Japanese with English subtitles, one could conceivably multitask by listening to one commentary while reading the other. It will probably come as no surprise that the Japanese commentary is more serious and sober, while the American track is (and not only by comparison) a breezy, lighthearted affair.
A substantial number of "Deleted Scenes" (33:35 with "Play All" option, SD) come with optional commentary by Shimizu, Ichise, and Fuji.
Fans couldn't ask for more than "A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge" (48:06 with "Play All" option, SD), a five-part making-of doc comprising "The Birth of The Grudge," "Myth of the Ju-On," "Culture Shock: The American Cast in Japan," "Designing the Grudge House," and "A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu." Participants include Raimi, Gellar, Bill Pullman, Tapert, Susco, Shimizu, Behr, Ryo Ishibashi, Yoko Maki, Ted Raimi, Strickland, DuVall, Grace Zabriskie, William Mapother, production designer Iwao Saito, and Blasi.
"Under the Skin" (12:26, SD) is a fascinating conversation with Joseph LeDoux, Ph.d, NYU Professor of Neural Science and Psychology, who explains the science and psychology of the effect of horror films on an audience.
"The Grudge House: An Insider's Tour" (3:58, SD) is a cameraman walking through the key set, partially illustrated with film clips.
"Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu" (3:13, SD) samples exactly that in a video sequence of Shimizu's storyboards with audio from the film. "Production Designer's Notebook: The Sketches of Iwao Saito" (2:26, SD) follows the same pattern.
Video Diaries from "Sarah Michelle Gellar" (9:02, SD) and "KaDee Strickland" (13:31, SD) are an entertaining look at production (and Japan) from the points of view of two of the actors.
Last up are Ju-On Short Films "4444444444" (2:58, SD) and "In a Corner" (3:23, SD), which seem to have been made for Japanese TV.
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