Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Grudge 2

THE GRUDGE 2 (Takashi Shimizu, 2006)

If dying in a powerful rage can cause a curse to be born, as THE GRUDGE 2 insists, then surely feeling severe dissatisfaction from watching this awful sequel will produce minor disturbances in movie theaters across the nation. Subsequent moviegoers will suffer nothing as serious as death from raven-haired spirits, mind you, but popcorn will mysteriously become stale and fellow viewers will forget to turn off their cell phones. Actually, that last one will probably happen, lesser curse or not.

THE GRUDGE 2 consists of three storylines, one of which picks up the thread from the conclusion of its 2004 predecessor. Upon receiving news that her sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been hospitalized, Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) goes to Tokyo to find out what’s wrong with her. (Although Gellar is in the film, she has the good sense to make little more than an extended cameo.) Aubrey disregards all warnings about the supernatural forces at play and investigates the circumstances that brought about Karen’s incapacitated state.

A second Tokyo-based storyline has unpopular schoolgirl Allison (Arielle Kebbel) giving in to peer pressure and entering the cursed house from THE GRUDGE on a dare. She too begins seeing all manner of creepy things, like the ghostly little boy who shrieks like a cat.

There’s also a sequence set in Chicago in which Jennifer Beals’ character moves in with her lover and his two children. It’s safe to say that the new living arrangement is probably doomed because of all sorts of bad vibes emanating from the neighbor girl shrouded in her hooded sweatshirt.

Apparently writer-director Takashi Shimizu has made a career out of redoing the same two films over and over, which seems like a curse in its own right. His Internet Movie Database filmography lists entries for JU-ON and JU-ON 2, both made in 2000; 2003’s JU-ON: THE GRUDGE and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2, theatrical versions of the earlier films; and THE GRUDGE and THE GRUDGE 2, his English-language remakes. (If the IMDb listing is correct, there’s more to come. The Japanese-language JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 3 is supposedly due next year.)

It comes as no surprise that this material doesn’t seem fresh, even if one hasn’t seen the other versions. Shimizu’s direction is on auto-pilot. He reuses scenarios, images, and beats that drain THE GRUDGE 2 of suspense. The repetition is numbing, and it leads to inadvertent laughter. For all intents and purposes, THE GRUDGE 2 is a parody of itself and the most recent wave of Japanese horror. I couldn’t stop from laughing when a girl guzzles a half gallon of milk and regurgitates it back into the jug.

Although short on plot, THE GRUDGE succeeded as a stylish exercise in mood. The tension was built slowly with long silences and punctuated by chilling images. THE GRUDGE 2 isn’t frightening at all, save for the stingers on the soundtrack that function as reflex tests rather than actual scares. Since it doesn’t cause any anxiety, the film can be seen for the poorly written rehash that it is.

Studios are milking their back catalogs by cranking out cheap direct-to-video sequels without the original stars—THE PRINCE & ME 2 and LIKE MIKE 2, anyone? Although it received a theatrical run, THE GRUDGE 2 is just reconstituted product, a watered down version of a decent original.

Grade: D-

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