A police officer enters a home to find an elderly woman in the kitchen dripping blood from her mangled, fingerless hands. A few seconds later the cop almost falls into the maggot riddled corpse of the man’s wife, propped up in an old armchair in front of the TV.
What happens next? Nothing.
At another point in time, a real estate agent looking for different owners of the same house discovers their creepy daughter left abandoned on the porch, blood pouring from her nose. He takes her inside, cleans her up and tries to contact the parents. While he’s leaving them a message, the girl suddenly starts puking up copious amounts of some dark, viscous liquid.
What happens next? Nothing.
The Police officer from the finger incident has a babysitter quit on her and is forced to bring her son to work with her at the police station. To keep the kid busy while she peruses files of all the people killed over the years in that same house, her partner takes him to a conference room to watch a DVD. The only DVD options at the station are The French Connection and 48 Hours. The partner picks the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte comedy, puts in in the machine and hits play.
What happens next? Nothing.
And so it goes. While the film has many, many problems, perhaps the biggest challenge to sitting through The Grudge (2020) is the way writer/director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) seems totally unable to follow through on an idea to any meaningful degree. And while those who make it to the end will try to argue that the last 15 minutes of the movie at least tries to tie it all together, by the time it happens, it’s way too little and far too late. And not very well done, either.
Anyone familiar with The Grudge franchise knows the basic story involves the curse that is created when someone is killed in the grip of extreme rage or sorrow. The curse, usually personified by a pale, wet young girl with really long black hair, haunts the house and everyone who enters it, eventually them to madness and murder. This new iteration shows what happens when a nanny from the original Grudge house quits her job and comes home to her family, unaware that the Grudge girl is hiding in her carry-on luggage.
Pesce’s plotting problems start soon after the nanny returns home. She hugs her husband and daughter and we get the eerie feeling that the Grudgegirl is about to strike, at least in our imagination, but nothing is actually shown. Instead, the film jumps over to the story of the cop, then over to the story of the real estate agent, then back in time to before the old woman murdered her husband and hacked off her fingers, then forward to an abandoned car with a corpse in it, then back to borrowed footage of the original movie, then on and on and on. At least that’s what seems to happen; it would take a team of scientists and multiple viewings of The Grudge to delineate the timeline, and there’s a good chance it still wouldn’t make any sense.
There’s more that’s wrong with The Grudge than the confusing plot, however, starting with cinematographer Zack Galler and his decision to shoot the film in a golden glow that makes it look like he dipped the camera lens in dark amber honey. Day or night, interiors or exteriors, the vast majority of the film looks…brownish. Yes, there are a few scenes that go against the tide of tan Galler and Pesce are creating, but they are rare and create more a sense of relief than any other emotion in the story. And speaking of lighting, do any of the characters in this movie know how to turn on a light switch? When, for example, the realtor enters the upstairs bathroom of the haunted house and, by the murky sepia tone of the ambient light, sees the tub is full of brackish, stinky water why doesn’t he turn the overhead light on to see what’s in the water? If Pesce/Galler thought doing so would spoil the mood of the moment, he should remind himself that nothing ruins a horror movie for genre fans more than silly characters doing obviously stupid things.
With so much wrong, it’s a struggle to find anything that’s right about The Grudge. On the plus side, the film does feature an appearance by genre favorite Lin Shaye as the old woman with the carving knife. It’s not a memorable appearance, certainly not one of her best, but it’s always fun to see what she will do with even the lamest story and her take on playing peek-a-boo with the Grudge girl is sure to make fans smile. She also has one of the only memorable death scenes in The Grudge, even if it makes no sense when it happens why it does.
And even though she is forced to wear a very silly hairstyle (wig?) it’s nice to see Jacki Weaver chewing the scenery as an assisted suicide practitioner who, for some unexplained reason decides to move in with the old woman and her soon-to-be-maggot-food husband even after she has decided the woman is too crazy to help die.
And even though the first two-thirds of The Grudge is a muddled mess, the last third is at least fun to watch. It’s not good. It’s not scary. It’s not enough to make up for the time and money wasted getting you there. But there’s a crazy energy to it as Pesce frantically tries to pull it all together so it makes sense, or at least sense enough to justify the “twist” that promises a sequel will be made no matter how bad this one is. And that is one promise the makers of The Grudge don’t need to keep.
- John Black, The Grudge