2004Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bill Pullman, Jason Behr
arlier this year Jørgen Leth’s film The Five Obstructions premiered here in Chicago. The film required Leth to remake his own short film The Perfect Human five different ways as ordered by Lars Von Trier. The premise itself sounded tedious, but due to brilliant direction; Leth created five different versions of the same concept that all exuded brilliance. Leth demonstrated a skillful way to remake a film: using the meaning of the original but altering the content.
Now, it seems, Sam Raimi has sentenced Takashi Shimizu to remake his own film Ju-on: The Grudge, a formerly clever little ghost story about a house that carries with it a terrible curse. I use the word “sentenced” because this task could only be some sort of punishment for Shimizu. After seeing the original I’ve concluded there was absolutely no artistic reason to remake this movie other than to pander to an American audience that still refuses to read subtitles and to cash in on a sure-fire moneymaker for the Halloween season. Whatever integrity Takashi may have had with his earlier work is squandered here as he exposes himself as a director ready to whore himself out for a profit.
The film tells the story of a house in which a terrible atrocity occurred, leaving a black mark on the place. Anyone who enters the house becomes afflicted by the curse and are either murdered within its walls or tracked down later by its ghostly occupants.
The original film wasn’t particularly brilliant, but it was effectively frightening and did have more than a few inspired sequences. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the American remake. Unlike with Leth’s five films, Shimizu chooses not to alter the content, instead defililng the original tone.
Shimizu (perhaps rightly) assumes that the majority of his target audience has not seen his original film. As a result he remakes this one literally shot for shot only with American actors. This possibly is the result of a lack of development time since the remake arrives in theaters no more than one year since the premiere of the original. The film clearly demonstrates the work of a director too tired to be inventive.
Shimizu has recycled all of the most inspired shots from the original film, and has done little to flesh out the story any further. Indeed, the new film retains all the flaws of the original and even succeeds in creating some new ones. One possible problem could be the addition of first-time screenwriter Stephen Susco, whose chief task most likely was using his keen American ear to add the atrocious dialogue between Gellar’s character and her boyfriend played by Jason Behr (a character that did not appear in the original).
Gellar plays Karen Davis, an American nurse studying in Tokyo. After another orderly fails to report back from a house call, Karen is sent to check up on the family and see if she can locate the missing nurse. Of course, the house Karen arrives at is the one carrying the curse and so now she has been targeted by the grudge, I suppose.
The grudge works rather mysteriously in dispensing its victims. Some are killed immediately. Others are allowed to flee in order to, as far as I can speculate, drag out this tired premise as long as possible.
In the original Gellar’s character was just one of the many characters scattered throughout the film; here, she is decidedly the star of the show. The choice to focus on her rather than retain the episodic nature of the former film is a grave miscalculation by Shimizu. The lack of focus on any one person in the Japanese version helped set it apart from the conventions of the horror genre.
Of course, none of this would matter much if the American version was actually scary. Instead it remains frustratingly clichéd. Would you really investigate ominous noises emanating from the attic of a stranger’s house while armed only with a lighter? These moments would mar any horror film because the characters perform idiotic acts at the whim of the screenplay rather than adhering to any common sense. But even if Shimizu removed all these momentary lapses of reason, he’d still need to establish some sort of tension or unease. The Japanese version concentrated on creating creepiness without resorting too often to the cheap shocks while the American version relies on solely those cheap scare tactics so often abused in horror films.
I always have a difficult time with remakes. Rarely do they ever work. If a film succeeds the first time, why tempt fate? I always recall a story I heard involving Alejandro Amenábar and Cameron Crowe. Supposedly Crowe begged Amenábar to remake his Spanish language film Abre los Ojos. Amenábar refused, allegedly telling Crowe he already made that film, it was time to move on the next. Disappointed, Crowe decided to do it himself. It appears Shimizu didn’t have the scruples to say the same. Or maybe he just hadn’t seen Vanilla Sky.