The Grudge 2
2006Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Edison Chen, Sarah Michelle Gellar
n the final moments of The Grudge, perennial good sport Sarah Michelle Gellar does her best post-feminist victim-with-standards and burns down a quaint Tokyo flat because she thinks it will destroy the evil spirit of a woman nastily murdered there some time before. There is, of course, no such thing as exterminating the marquee villain in a low-budget horror movie that grossed $39 million in its first weekend, even if she’s about as dynamic as director Takashi Shimizu chasing around his resident cast of teen-pop alumni with a dirty mop. The house in question stands curiously strong in The Grudge 2, the eager host of a new round of schoolgirls, journalists, and siblings of the first film’s victims, but this time even the house itself—personified with the requisite creaks and pale greens—is beginning to look a little bored.
The new film adopts the same structure as the first, which, basically, is to say it has no structure at all. The formula, though, is clear: Don’t go in the cursed house. Ever. Certainly don’t go in the attic. If you do, a dead Japanese woman—of such ethnicity because her long black hair is more in vogue in horror these days than bleach-blond white girl—will ferociously bug out her eyes and sic her young son (also murdered, still expert at meowing and hiding behind household objects) on you.
None of these rules seem awfully complicated, but after a not-so-choice encounter with her older sister (Gellar, who reprises her role, um, briefly), the porcelain Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) breaks just about every one in a single stride. With a chip on her shoulder (mom favored the older sis) and the helpful but too-roguishly-sexy-to-be-an-actual-journalist Eason (Edison Chen) at her side, Aubrey wants to find out what happened to her sister, even if that means miffing a few adulterous phantasms along the way.
The film also finds time, none of it well spent, to explore the sad case of a schoolgirl (Teresa Palmer) forced into the haunted house by better-looking classmates. She apparently brings down the curse’s fury upon the entire hall of her nearby apartment building, where another curse, involving still another unfaithful wife and a frying pan, is already brewing.
Even as it seems to inch toward a bona fide storyline, the film is quick to regress into the same inexplicable mish-mash of the original. The plot begins and ends with exposition. Stephen Susco’s screenplay is so fiercely episodic that almost any scene could stand alone as a short film in which back story is suggested and a standby is coincidentally killed off. Susco, whose screenwriting credit suggests the writer’s guild is becoming more generous with age, is clearly happy to have the story’s basic mythology out of the way, but the only thing he can think to do with it is to heap on layers of the same ominous buildup and the same goofy payoff (generally indebted to the score rather than anything that actually happens on screen). The final sequence could have just as easily come halfway through, although perhaps the back-to-back deaths of two main characters consumed by 10 pounds of fake hair are his idea of closure.
As only the second of three horror sequels this season alone, The Grudge 2 is no more and no less artistically bankrupt than the current marketplace will allow, and it at the very least understands its place in the scheme of things. Its audience thrives on easy scares, and it provides them. But even if this is a simple case of supply and demand, with a guaranteed studio budget and a cast of young actors who seem to be game, why not try something a little less easy? If there’s a prospect more depressing than Shimizu, one of the famous names in J-horror, making countless sequels to his original hit, then remaking them in English, I challenge you to find any filmmaker creatively resigned enough to bear it.
The Grudge 2 is playing in theatres across the country.