As is the case with a vast majority of remakes, The Grudge (2020) too feels forced and unnecessary. Still, it is not as big of a calamity as the Rotten Tomatoes score suggests.
Rarely does it happen that a particular scene captures the entirety of my feelings as I watch a movie. However, miracles happen.
Early on, a character played by John Cho asks his wife how’s she doing. In an apathetic tone, she responds ‘I don’t know‘. That’s precisely how I feel about Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge (2020). I just don’t know what to make of it.
I’ll save you the hating on the sole fact that nobody asked for this film to be made. But someone placed their money, invested time and resources. Although the film is claimed to be a remake of the Japanese horror Ju-on (2002), it steers away from rehashing the old story. That’s what Nicolas Pesce promised in interviews – that the story will be way more bonkers than the J-horror.
In his take on The Grudge (2020), the titular curse is carried like a disease, by an American citizen who worked in Japan. When her family’s brutally murdered, it’s her house that becomes haunted.
That’s only the beginning of the applied changes. In fact, Nicolas Pesce draws very little from Takashi Shimizu’s original. The story is no longer bound to the Japanese culture, and it’s not tied to the particular house. The now-iconic, pale kid is gone, and replaced by a squad of bleak figures, all representing the people who died in the new house (or because they stepped inside it, to be precise). Even the equally famous, peculiar gurgling sound – the one that paralyzed audiences back in 2002 – barely makes the cut here.
So what’s left to scare in The Grudge (2020)?
Pesce re-did two well-known scenes: the shower and the bed sheets, but added little to build on the already existing canvas.
However, the inability to properly implement the ‘remake’ part doesn’t hurt that much. In fact, Pesce could easily leave the label aside, and opt for his own haunted house story. And that’s fine. He invents a protagonist – a female detective played by Andrea Riseborough – who has goes down a slope of madness as the investigation deepens. Her life ain’t no bed of roses: her husband died a few months back and left her with a kid. The pursuit after the truth becomes her obsession, but also an escape from tough reality.
It all sounds like a meaty, psychological role, but Riseborough has a hard time here, with a leading role that occupies less than half of the film. Pesce believes in the power of his story – not the characters building it. He jumps between two timelines, introduces many characters, but the result is a mayhem.
The Grudge (2020) suffers from an abundance of characters
That idea to pack The Grudge (2020) with as many plots and characters as possible causes Pesce’s film to lack focus and power. According to the director, there’s space for two couples, a quasi-medium, and another detective who feels like he missed the casting for True Detective (played by an Oscar-nominated actor Demian Bichir). To be honest, horrors rarely benefit from such a plethora of characters. In fact, the most successful ones are character studies. And the case of The Grudge (2020) proves it. Pesce loses focus in the story, which – as a result – causes it to be languid and void of any dread. If he focused on Riseborough’s character only, he might have had a shot at a decent film.
In spite of that, it’s hard to criticize any of the actors appearing in Pesce’s ordeal. They’re given scraps of roles, and it’s only Jacki Weaver who has arguably the most fun here. As that quasi-medium I mentioned, Weaver smirks and goes over the top, and makes The Grudge (2020) funny – at least that. All the others seem dazed and confused, trying to fit in the complicated scheme that’s conceived in the mind of Nicolas Pesce.
Frankly, the criticism above does not indicate that The Grudge (2020) is a complete disaster. Hollywood churns out stuff like this, and some horror fans will surely find it appealing. However, in a world where films such as Hereditary (2018), The Lighthouse (2019) and Get Out (2017) are made, Pesce’s creation feels largely out-dated and just average.
The Grudge (2020) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
I’ll spare the harshness, but The Grudge (2020) finds little to defend its unappealing set of scares and a convoluted story.
The Grudge (2020)
Dir. Nicolas Pesce
Hate Grade: 7/10