★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s a remake? It’s a reboot? It’s a… sidequel! And we’ve got jump scares aplenty in the most recent addition to Grudge lore.
Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Wow, do people hate remakes! Don’t get me wrong; I’m usually right there with ’em shaking my pitchfork and waving my torch against whatever new abomination Hollywood’s decided to re-release. With the vitriol churned up by writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge (2020) though, I was expecting something of The Wicker Man (2006) quality.
But, honestly? It’s not that bad.
Wait, wait! Before you have me tarred and feathered hear me out. First of all, it’s not a remake. Originally, back when the title was just “Grudge,” word on the street said it was going to be a remake. I’d like to think someone talked some sense into the filmmakers, the title was changed to “The Grudge,” and people started calling it a reboot of the series, but it’s not that either.
A “reboot” implies the filmmakers destroyed the continuity of the existing film series to start the story all over again, but that’s not what The Grudge does. Officially, this is a sidequel.
2020’s The Grudge is, technically, a follow-up to 2004’s The Grudge since things make a lot more sense if you watch them starting with the 2004 version, but this 2020 release doesn’t continue any of the storylines from the 2004 movie. 2020’s The Grudge takes place at the same time as the 2004 movie. It just follows different characters.
In this latest addition to the series, we start outside the infamous Saeki house in Tokyo, Japan. The year is 2004 and Fiona Landers [Tara Westwood; TV’s Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019)] — in a clever bit of storytelling by Nicolas Pesce — is on the phone with someone named Yoko to quit her job as a caregiver and get Yoko to take over her duties at the house.
As any Grudger would know, Yoko was the caregiver in The Grudge (2004) who took over care of the elderly woman in the Saeki house and (arguably) became ghostly Kayako’s first victim. After that deft little tie-in, the two movies diverge completely and become separate entries in the mythos of The Grudge.
Acting in The Grudge (2020) is the best in the series by far. Andrea Riseborough [Mandy (2018)] shines as Detective Muldoon; a single mother trying to keep her child safe while working to unravel the mystery behind The Grudge. And then you’ve got the dynamic duo of Frankie Faison [Netflix’s Luke Cage (2016)] and genre veteran Lin Shaye [the Insidious film series] as William & Faith Matheson; the married couple coping with life in a cursed house. As usual, Lin Shaye in particular steals every scene she’s in.
With all of that going for it, why only ★★★ for The Grudge? And, to be totally honest, I was originally going to give it ★★1/2, but Lin Shaye’s performance kicked it up a notch.
Even with some great acting and decent CG effects, there’s just not much substance to the film. The “mystery” plays second fiddle to flashes of gore and about a million jump scares. It doesn’t build on the mythos; it barely explains what’s going on, in fact. You’re left with a lot of running around in the dark, suddenly loud soundtrack moments, and a main storyline that churns along as if it’s on rails.
It’s a great looking movie and, if you’re locked away in your house these days like you’re supposed to be, it’s still a fun popcorn film to take your mind off the insanity of the pandemic. As long as you don’t expect much more than that you won’t feel like breaking out your torches and pitchforks.
The Grudge is available for streaming from Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and others.
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Review by Robert Zilbauer.