To avoid confusion: This is the American sequel to the American remake of the Japanese remake of the Japanese direct-to-video expansion of two Japanese horror shorts. Wow. Both the Japanese video version and its Japanese remake spawned their own sequels as well, Ju-On 2 and Ju-On: The Grudge 2. All 6 (or 8 if you count the shorts) films have been the work of director Takashi Shimizu who is either the most obsessive filmmaker in the world or has no other ideas outside of holding hisGrudge. After six films in as many years and yet another Japanese and American sequel in the works, he surely rivals Toyota for mass production and global export. The fact is that Shimizu is a brilliant filmmaker and The Grudge 2 is possibly the most abstract and experimental horror film to be released by a major studio sinceBram Stoker’s Dracula.
When we last saw her, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had just set fire to the evil house in The Grudge and was hospitalized in a state of total horror movie shock. Horror movie characters rarely return from this condition and if they do, it’s only for them to die in the opening reel of the sequel. So, Karen returns for this sequel, still hospitalized and held by the police for killing her boyfriend as a result of said fire. She is also strapped to her bed, making it very hard for her to fight back against any semi-nude blue boys or long black wigs that might be trying to get her.
Karen’s younger sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) has been summoned by their crazy bedridden mother(Joanna Cassidy)to go to Japan and bring her crazy daughter back home. How she is supposed to do this while charges are being held against Karen by the Japanese authorities is not explained. Thankfully, since this is a horror movie, Karen is dead before any serious legal wrangling is begun. Now, Aubrey wants to find out why her sister ended up this way and what mysteries lie in the burned out house.
Normally this would serve as the plot for any number of standard issue horror films but Shimizu isn’t interested in lowering himself to that standard. The Ju-On series was always designed as a more abstract, enigmatic experience. The nightmarish vibe was not the result of mysteries being unraveled like an episode of The X-Files but rather from the paranoid and inexplicable sense that nothing could ever be solved and evil could not be vanquished. The first American Grudge bent over backwards in its attempt to make the structure more user friendly to a mass-audience narcotized by linearity. This time Shimizu seems hell bent on reclaiming his chaotic vibe. He does so by piling on two other seemingly unrelated plotlines that slowly reveal a secret pattern. One will be very familiar to Ju-On fans, featuring uniformed schoolgirls getting into trouble after visiting the cursed house on a dare. Shimizu, however, knows we’ve been here before and has some new tricks up his sleeve.
The other plot is actually set in the United States. Somehow, the grudge has traveled all the way to Chicago, Illinois and is seriously messing with the tenants of a dark and mysterious apartment building. Jennifer Beals appears in this section as a woman who moves in with her widower boyfriend and his two children. She wants to build relationships with the kids, but has a hard time with the younger of the two, Jake (Matthew Knight), who is the only one to realize that some seriously bizarre things are happening around them; specifically, the creepy neighbor who slinks around the building at night in a dirty hooded sweatshirt.
As opposed to the one story at a time structure of the first film, Shimizu shuffles up time and chronology like an experiment in string theory. What appears to be a “meanwhile...” type of structure eventually surprises us with its much more complex time and space relations. This is why the film seems so experimental. Shimizu has all but dissolved the need for a strong central protagonist and simply allows the movie to drift in and out of a series of surreal narratives with nothing to hold it together except for a general feeling of impending doom. Much better than it’s predecessor, The Grudge 2 recaptures the feeling of randomness and cosmic dread that defined the films from the beginning.
Although the movie once again shows the scars of test screening tampering, it appears as though the way in which the movie was made rendered gutting its structural inventiveness impossible. Having long mastered the Where’s Waldo? trick of hiding his ghosts in the corners of the frame, Shimizu delivers on the scares but also finds time to experiment with the laugh/scream reflex. You know, that familiar effect of jump-Scream-laughter at how absurd it was that I got scared effect? Shimizu actually has some new ideas about this and plays with scenes designed to shift those around or compound them with a second jump/scare/laugh so the audience feels like some kind of giggling lunatic. Six films into the series, and with all of the conventions of throat croaking and neck cracking having moved into camp, it’s amazing that Shimizu can still find new ways to turn the old screw. Besides, how many films are allowed to tamper with the studio logo? The Grudge 2 actually takes the famous Columbia Pictures red-headed “Torch lady” and has her morph into Kayako. Now, isn’t that at least worth the rental?
The Grudge 2 has been mastered in High definition 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen. It can be viewed in English or French and/or with English or French subtitles. The transfer is fantastic with little detail lost in the shadows.
The disc comes loaded with features but oddly missing the most compelling feature, the director’s commentary. This was a great feature of the double dipped original “Grudge” special edition and indicates that maybe Sony plans on double double dipping once again. Hearing about the culture shock experienced by Shimizu, producer Taka Ichise and “Kayako” herself Takako Fuji was hilarious and very informative. Sony piles on a potpourri of extras instead and they are a mixed bag.
The four separate behind the scenes documentaries are:East Meets West, dealing with the cast and crew working together multi-culturally.Grudge 2: Storyline Development Featurette, which chronicles the creative compromises required to produce an American/Japanese horror film.Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu focuses on the director’s methods, while Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio lets us get to know the star ghosts better.
Tales from The Grudge is introduced by Sam Raimi and features three very short promotional films by Toby Wilkins. They follow the model closely, but Wilkins is no Shimizu and this looks like the kind of empty product The Grudge could’ve been had Raimi and his partners hired some music video maven to direct instead. The Cast and Crew Reel Change Montage shows the cast and crew each holding the slate all scored to the theme from The Grudge. This is very long and not really worth the trouble.
The Deleted Scenes show the strain the cross cultural process placed upon the filmmakers. Many scenes were shot in alternate versions and with extra connections in order to structure the three stories in any number of ways. For example, when Arielle Kebble finds herself locked in the closet, she sees several different choices of ghosts coming down to get her. Weird scenes featuring someone regurgitating a cat and a room that bends and twists like a magical mystery acid trip are worth the deletion.