Buffy’s grudge match

Rated 3.0

When someone dies in the grip of a terrible rage, a curse is spawned, dooming all who are touched by it, a supposed Japanese adage goes—at least in the modern-day Tokyo as presented in The Grudge.

Mousy American caretaker Kare Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is dispatched to an unassuming house in the ‘burbs to fill in for an absentee coworker. Soon she finds the house benighted by the aforementioned curse, as is anyone who enters. Seems the family being taken care of is the first to move into the house after a brutal murder-suicide three years prior, where an enraged father brutally killed his wife, little boy and the family black cat. The curse is unrelenting, even following people to their job sites and apartments. Meow.

Lots of creepy scuttling about by the apparitions ensues, bloody footprints left in the wake (metaphorically speaking). This is essentially a series of vignettes in which likeable people die in horrible ways—if you go in expecting Geller’s Buffy-slaying ghoulies, you’ll be disappointed.

Given that director Takashi Shimizu has filmed this beast three times already (first for Japanese television, then as a regional theatrical release), one would expect perfection; and while for the most part he succeeds, there are also needlessly silly missteps (such as a character so overwhelmed by Tokyo streets that she has to cab it about, but when she realizes her boyfriend has gone to the house she foots it directly there in pursuit). Minor quibbles, however.

Overall, Shimizu has a deft talent for taking horror clichàs and tweaking them in unexpected directions, laying down an underlying hum of unease throughout, maintained by a handful of well-realized jolts that occasionally jump out in incongruous situations. Surprisingly effective is Shimizu’s utilization of an unconventional (at least for American audiences) narrative structure, seamlessly ducking and bobbing through the timeline of the story. Unfortunately, The Grudge is hampered by a conventional, predictable ending (with his propensity for lifting moments from his Japanese contemporaries, Shimuzu could at least have borrowed a better resolution).

Great Halloween matinee fare.