The Grudge (2020) – movie review

Grudge. Image credit: courtesy of IGN Italia Grudge. Image credit: courtesy of IGN Italia

As it happens every year, the first theatrical release of the year in the United States is a horror movie. This time, to open 2020 is the second remake of The Grudge, just like the last horror theatrical release of 2019 was the remake of a remake (the horrendous latest version of Black Christmas).

Despite the promising-looking trailers, most horror fans weren’t really looking forward to this umpteenth film in The Grudge franchise, which now consists of four American movies (two remakes and two sequels to the first remake), nine Japanese flicks (including spin-offs) and two loosely-related short films. This, obviously, sounds ridiculous: 15 movies in the space of 22 years means spamming the market with flicks that, in almost every instance, are subpar at best. However, I personally went into this new take on the story with some hope, due to the director: Nicholas Pesce is, in fact, responsible for two great horror films that came out in 2017 and 2018 (The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing).

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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The Grudge – plot and reception

In his new version of The Grudge, however, the story is still similar to the one in every other film in the franchise: the house where Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) lives is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death. Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) must investigate the case, as well as the various deaths caused by what Fiona claims to be a curse.

With a respectable cast and a talented director at the helm, The Grudge somehow manages to be an extremely boring and obnoxious viewing experience. This is one of those rare cases where the film community is united in believing the movie was a huge flop: both horror fans and film critics are in agreement on how bad 2020 The Grudge is and, for once, I must say I concur with the popular opinion. Why is that, though?

Mass production vs art-house filmmaking

The main issue with this new version of The Grudge lies in a clear conflict between the director’s style and the requirements of a studio film. Nicholas Pesce loves to give a distinctive look and feel to his films – which is why I love them so much – while also making characters multi-layered and relatable: whether it’s a twisted serial killer (like in The Eyes of My Mother) or a troubled and perverted man who gets off at stabbing prostitutes (like in Piercing), the protagonists in Pesce’s cinema are complex and interesting, providing the audience with food for thought. This clearly clashes with the Hollywood trademark of filling up horror flicks with jump-scares and one-dimensional characters that act like blank slates the audience can easily project themselves onto. As a result, The Grudge has a lot of lengthy scenes about uninteresting characters that end up in silly and predictable jump-scares, without developing any interesting concept or protagonist.

It’s not the first time where the studio system obliterates unique traits of a director: one of my favourite filmmakers working today, Darren Aronofsky, faced the same issue with his hilariously bad flick Noah, a dumb blockbuster flick where the artsy style of Aronofsky only made the overall experience feel jarring and stupid.

Played-out storyline and naïve characters

Another big problem with The Grudge remake consists of its predictable and dull storyline, which doesn’t differ one bit from your thirteen-in-a-dozen supernatural horror flick. Unfortunately, the room of writers – which includes the director – couldn’t come up with anything even remotely original or refreshing. As a result, every step the movie takes feels like something we’ve seen a million times already which, combined with the unnecessary length of each scene, makes the viewing experience very, very boring.

The main characters in the movie are, also, nothing more than the same archetype you expect from mainstream horror cinema: there’s nothing to make them stand out, nor their choices within the film make you care about their faith. In fact, most of the characters’ decisions in The Grudge are the most dumb and counterproductive you can think of. In other words, no real person would behave the way they do in this flick.

What to save in 2020 The Grudge?

Despite the terrible script and awfully-written dialogue, some of the acting in the movie is solid: Demián Bichir and Lin Shaye do a very decent job, whether that’s due to good directing or their immense talent as performers. Speaking of directing, the movie looks good and has a fitting colour palette. As one might expect from Nicholas Pesce, cinematography and camera-work are able to carry sequences that would otherwise be unbearable. Yet, fans of conventional horror flicks might find some of the jump-scares effective since they are, admittedly, set up in a rather professional way.

I don’t think The Grudge came from a place of laziness, but the end product is really hard to get through despite some elements of quality here and there. Unless you’re super into The Grudge universe, I would suggest skipping this remake, which is mostly boring and unnecessary.

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