Ju-On: The Grudge

Nowadays, the best way to do horror is Asian. Asian horror films are much cleverer than their American counterparts, who seem hell bent on cramming as much blood and gore onto the screen as possible. Oh, it's in the Asian films, but they're more concerned with freaking out the audience than anything else. And they do phenomenally well enough to merit American releases and remakes. The best example is The Ring, which was originally Ringu in Japan. Ringu 2 was also a big hit in Japan, enough so that its director, Hideo Nakata is directing the American remake. The same goes for Ju-On: The Grudge, which is being advertised as by the same makers of Ringu. It's also a Japanese film whose remake is coming in a few months. The director, Takashi Shimizu, is also directing the American remake. Go figure. To further confuse people, Ju-On: The Grudge is actually the third film in a four-film franchise (so far) in Japan. The sequels are fairly independent of each other, much like a Friday the 13th film, where people can keep pumping out movie after movie.

The difference is that Ju-On tries to be scary, and for the most part succeeds. There is a semi-incoherent story by Shimizu (Tomie: Rebirth, Ju-on: The Curse 2) about some a curse that afflicts anybody that comes in contact with it, stemming from an unresolved murder. Rika Nishina (Megumi Okina, Red Shadow, St. John's Wort) works for a hospital and is sent to a house to tend for an elderly lady. Once there, she discovers that the place is a mess, the old lady won't talk to her, and she begins hearing strange noises upstairs. She essentially unleashes the curse, which then proceeds to touch upon the lives of other people, typically scaring the pants off them and sometimes the audience.

The structure of Ju-On is probably its biggest detractor. It is not told linearly, but in chapters, with each chapter focusing on one person, and how the curse specifically affects that person. Instead of building tension for the duration of the movie, Shimizu essentially makes a bunch of shorter films, where it gets scary, then gets better, then gets scary, then gets better. This constant stopping and starting is not the greatest way to hold one's interest, especially since things soon feel repetitive. Instead of moving the story forward, Shimizu retells it, every time revealing just a little bit more about the bigger picture. It slows down the pacing of the film, and probably takes away some of the general feeling of creepiness that he wanted in the film. The vignettes jump backwards and forwards in time, and a few do not even make sense after the film is over.

Still, Ju-On is a decently scary movie. One interesting thing to note is that many of the events take place during daylight hours. Shadows emerge out of nowhere, it suddenly becomes dark, the music gets creepier, and the viewer knows that something is going to happen. Especially the first few vignettes, where nothing is clear. The primary vehicle that Shimizu uses to shock the audience is a gothed out little boy, who runs behind people, peeks around corners, and stares creepily at the various cast members. Aside from Nishina (to be played in the remake by Sarah Michelle Gellar), it is difficult to sympathize with the various cast members because Shimizu runs through so many of them and they are not on screen for long. The most fascinating aspect of watching Ju-On will be to see what Shimizu decides to changes. He essentially has a do over, presumably with more money.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 32 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles, Rated R for some disturbing images.

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