The Grudge (AKA Ju-On: The Grudge) is a very interesting, low-budget entry into the ghost story sub-genre of Asian Extreme Cinema, known for its particular visual techniques and experimental storytelling. The Grudge is a film that doesn’t follow a linear, three act story-line. Instead, The Grudge focuses on the stories of multiple people whose lives have been affected by violent ghosts of people suffering from a curse known as “Ju-On”, a curse which is the result of someone dying during an immense rage, and that rage continuing on into the afterlife.
To begin with, the story-line of The Grudge contains many protagonists, and the film’s story is told in a non-chronological order, with the only antagonists being the original victims of the Ju-On curse. Each story told throughout The Grudge is different but each one ends in a similar way: with the appearance of the original ghosts and the death of the protagonist. Each short story makes up a coherent timeline but this experimental storytelling technique is very flawed. First of all, there’s no resolution by the end of the film. Secondly, the non-chronological storytelling creates confusion because The Grudge isn’t clear, at first, as to which event goes where as it jumps back and forth in order. There are context clues that dictate where each event fits on the timeline, but because the film jumps back and forth so many times, it’s gets quite bothersome having to guess where each scene fits on the timeline. I would have preferred a much more traditional story-line to go with such a traditional ghost story, but I respect Takashi Shimizu’s experimental approach.
Also, the overuse of protagonists instead of focusing on one or two through throughout the story means that there isn’t enough time to develop the characters properly. All of the characters in The Grudge are archetypal, and there isn’t enough personality and characterization to make them feel believably human. The motivations for each character can be summed up in one or two words which doesn’t work in ghost stories because, to be scared by a ghost story, an audience has to really empathize with a character and the situation they’re going through. The Grudge doesn’t deliver on this point, and as a result, the majority of the film just isn’t scary. I didn’t empathize with these characters enough to feel what they feel, I didn’t feel enough for their situation to be scared for them.
That being said, however, the film has a couple of very strong aspects to combat the flaws. For one, the acting is really good. For as bland and poorly developed as these characters are, the actors themselves do a very good job at making them emotionally believable. Even child actor Yuya Ozeki, who plays the very young Toshio, gives a great performance in both human and ghost form. Overall, I don’t feel like there was a single actor who let the film down, and the acting performances definitely strengthen the film’s weak foundations.
But the greatest aspect of The Grudge is the film’s creepy atmosphere. The Grudge is very subtle for a ghost film and a lot of the film’s more unsettling moments are achieved through camera and editing trickery. Instead of having all the ghosts be presented trough CGI, the ghosts of The Grudge are portrayed by real actors in make-up. However, through the use of clever camera angles, dramatic irony and clever, yet naturalistic, editing, the ghosts of The Grudge are believable and effective. Most of the time, to see a ghost is to spot something in the corner of the screen, and each time it happens it makes the film very creepy and mysterious. There are a couple of uses of CGI, but the majority of the film’s creepy atmosphere comes from the camera, acting and subtle editing.
Overall, I thought The Grudge was an okay horror flick. It had quite a few flaws that drew me away from the film’s intended effect, but it also had some very good attributes that evened out the flaws. After all is said and done, however, I wouldn’t say that The Grudge is recommended viewing, as there exists better Japanese ghost films than this one, but if one were to watch The Grudge, they’re not going to have an overall bad experience. In conclusion, The Grudge is an effective film, but it’s very average and not as powerful as many other films to emerge from the Asian Extreme Cinema genre of film.