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Over the past couple of years the horror genre has been going through a creative renaissance. Alongside new original films from exciting filmmakers, a big part of what has driven this renaissance has been remakes and reboots of existing horror properties, from IT and Halloween to Child’s Play and Suspiria. That trend continues to ring in the first weekend of the New Year with The Grudge.
Produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Nicolas Pesce, The Grudge reboots the property previously seen in the 2004 film The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar, which itself was a remake of the 2002 Japanese film Ju-on. The new film starring Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho and Betty Gilpin tells the story of a house cursed by a vengeful ghost that has a murderous grudge against all those it encounters. So, is The Grudge another great modern horror reboot?
The first reviews for The Grudge have arrived and... nobody ever said that the horror renaissance wouldn’t have a few creative dips. The reviews for the film, to put it simply, are brutal. Here’s what the critics are saying, starting with The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore, who wrote:
It's hard to remember a recent movie in which so many jump-scares have failed so completely; in one or two spots, characters linger, staring so long at something that's about to go 'boo, that viewers have time to chuckle, then resent the long wait.
A horror movie where the audience laughs instead of being frightened, as they say, that's not what you want. Jump scares are arguably a cheap and overused tool in the horror genre as is, but when you use them, they have to work and that does not seem to be the case with The Grudge.
Beyond the film's lack of genuine scares, a common thread in the reviews for The Grudge seems to be that the new film does little to differentiate itself from what came before or justify its own existence. Variety's Owen Gleiberman wrote:
A reboot of a remake of a film that wasn't all that scary to begin with, the new version of The Grudge conjures nothing but the dregs of J-horror.
It seems that The Grudge uses every genre trope in the book and if you've seen the prior films, there isn't anything really new to look forward to in this one. That said, some reviewers found things to appreciate, like the film's cast, even if the film didn't capitalize on them. IndieWire's Kate Erbland gave The Grudge a C- in her review and said:
Brief moments of brilliance, including a riveting performance by Riseborough and a number of gorgeous frames, only shine with momentary appeal before the whole thing slips back into vapidity and convention.
The belief that the cast of The Grudge was completely wasted was highlighted in a particularly brutal review from Movie Nation's Roger Moore. He gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars and wrote:
Writer-director Pesce was blessed with this cast. But after this, my guess is he’ll never work with players this accomplished again.
Yikes, talk about a grudge. While you might be getting the impression that The Grudge is universally disliked, there were some critics that actually enjoyed the movie for what it is. One of those critics was The Los Angeles Times' Noel Murray, who wrote:
If the angry, vengeful Ju-On ghosts must endure, they might as well be deployed by someone who knows how to make their attacks bruising.
While there may be a question about whether this franchise needs to continue, unlike many of his colleagues, Noel found The Grudge to actually be scary and he appreciated how writer-director Nicolas Pesce handled the property to deliver that. He was certainly in the minority though, because other critics, even those that appreciated the cast and craft of The Grudge, felt this reboot was ultimately unjustified. The Wrap's Todd Gilchrist said:
The Grudge 2020 is a prestige drama sidelined by lackluster, incoherent horror, ruining the scares and undercutting the humanity of its characters… the scariest thing about Pesce’s film is imagining that someone believed this particular intellectual property had any actual life in it to revive.
While I imagine that this reboot/continuation was intended to establish the continued viability of this horror property, at least as far as the critics are concerned, it did just the opposite. As of now The Grudge sits at an especially rotten 21% on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer based on 39 critic reviews. The Grudge is basically opening unopposed this weekend as the only wide new release, so maybe audiences will check it out and feel differently.