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Ju-On: The Grudge 2
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by Jay Seaver

"The creepy sound and hair is back, with a difference."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: When I saw it at the 2003 Boston Fantastic Film Festival, Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-on: The Grudge" was something of a revelation to me. I can't remember the last really scary horror movie I'd seen before it, and I started taking a greater interest in the horror coming out of Japan. That was, of course, before I knew what a cottage industry Shimizu was making of it. This follow-up to that movie isn't quite in it's class, but it's still good for a couple of jumps and one or two gasps.

As with its predecessor, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (since there also exists a Ju-on 2 and The Grudge 2 is planned, abbreviation is problematic) is told out of chronological order, using character names as chapter titles and mostly keeping the focus on that character. The sequence of events becomes apparent pretty quickly, though - actress Kyoko Harase (Noriko Sakai), known as the "Queen of Horror", appears on a "Sightings" type of television show, visiting the infamous Saeki house along with host Tomoka Miura (Chiahru Niyama). This is not a wise thing to do, of course, as later that night ghost-child Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) appears in her car, leading to an accident that puts her boyfriend in a coma and ends her first-trimester pregnancy... Or does it? Meanwhile, everyone else on that shoot is also receiving visits from Toshio and his mother Kayako (Takako Fuji), and those seldom end well.

It is easy to joke about the number of Ju-on-based movies Shimizu has made - two direct to video, two Japanese theatricals, an American remake, with a third Japanese and a second American theatrical in the planning stages, all in the space of just a few years. The film bears the signs of a series that has been, shall we say, broken in. Compared to the previous entry in the series, the story is much more streamlined; though told out of strict chronological order, it's relatively easy to pick up and follow the story. Practice, perhaps, has honed Shimizu's skills at structuring his story; what was confusing in Ju-on: The Grudge is very clear here.

Despite the similarity in structure and the return of the same actors as Toshio and Kayako (the only ones who've been in all five Ju-on/The Grudge productions), this movie is a somewhat different animal than its predecessor. Part of what I loved about Ju-on: The Grudge is what a "pure" horror movie it was: The grudge of the title was an inhuman force, striking blindly at anyone who came near it. No point to it, no reasoning with it, no value judgment of its victims. No winking at the camera. This movie, on the other hand, has self-referential bits - the audience giggled at the shots of a likely-doomed member of the film crew combing out long, black wigs - and the ghosts act less like forces of nature and more like, well, ghosts. They choose the pregnant woman as a target for specific reasons, with a goal in mind. It's a different feel, not worse. Upon reflection, it's probably better than just cranking out more of the same, which the franchise's set-up would certainly have allowed Shimizu to do.

Of course, what it ultimately comes down to is whether or not the movie is scary. And it is, though occasionally more in a throwing-a-cat-at-someone way than in an existential-dread way. Shimizu makes some jokes about the hair that had quickly become a horror fixture, but he makes good use of the imagery, using the blackness to blend the ghosts in with shadows or stains on the floor. There's a fantastic funny/scary/just plain wrong moment that explains where the thumping noise Tomoka hears in her apartment early on is coming from, and the film does save its more disturbing scenes for the end. The theme is unsettling, too, once Kyoko starts to feel that there's something off about her pregnancy - there aren't many things more intimate to violate than the link between a mother and her unborn child.

Having Kyoko be a specific target of Kayako and Toshio does give the actors a little more to work with, too. In Ju-on: The Grudge, the relations between the characters weren't terribly important, except in terms of how they would bring more people to the haunted house and increase the film's body count; here, there's more of a central character - which Noriko Sakai plays well - to give the audience more of a sympathetic hook.

It'll be interesting to see if Shimizu and company remake this movie as "The Grudge 2" - probably not, as there's not much place for Sarah Michelle Gellar's character. Which makes the movie that much more worth picking up, if Lion's Gate ever gets around to giving it its US release - it's an interesting continuation of, and twist on, the concept, very good indeed even if it doesn't quite live up to its excellent predecessor.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12526&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/30/05 23:07:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/17/07 Axel Better & scarier, than the first! 5 stars
2/15/07 Axel Leos One of the best horror movies I have ever seen 5 stars
11/13/06 Indrid Cold Even weak J-horror matches the best Hollywood horror. 4 stars
10/18/06 K.Sear What a horrible let-down. Not a single interesting moment. 1 stars
10/13/06 nelson it was a good movie 3 stars
10/07/06 saadallah belkhiri 5 stars
3/05/06 Renee Seager i like the grudge 5 stars
11/26/05 Christine Hosie better than american version 5 stars
11/24/05 grace colthorpe brilliant I advise amy masson to see it 5 stars
6/29/05 cristeen69 a fair sequel was expecting more 3 stars
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  DVD: 10-Oct-2006



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