“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage a curse is born;” so runs the premise of the Ju-On series, beginning in 2000 with Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Curse, which the director himself remade in America in 2004 as The Grudge. Now comprising thirteen feature films, including the Ringu crossover Sadako vs Kayako, the latest is the fourth in the American series, also conveniently titled The Grudge so as to avoid confusion.
The third feature from writer/director Nicolas Pesce after The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing, the latter based on the novel by Ryū Murakami though with the action moved away from Japan, for his first franchise film Pesce performs a similar transplant, The Grudge opening in Tokyo where live-in nurse Fiona Landers leave her position without warning to return to her family in Cross River, Pennsylvania.
Unaware that the dread she has fled has hitched a ride, the Landers’ home at 44 Reyburn Drive becomes the epicentre of a new round of infection which will consume all who cross the threshold, Fiona, her husband and daughter Melinda, the real estate agents who take on the property, the detectives who investigate the cases, the subsequent tenants and the detective who will ultimately look into that later case.
The four stories of the Landers, the Spencers, the Mathesons and the Muldoons told out of sequence, shown chronologically or individually as short films they would be pedestrian, and their presentation as a jigsaw puzzle is little more than an obfuscation of the obvious, Pesce unable to add anything surprising or innovative to a formula whose minimal depth has already been thoroughly charted.
Where the film does work is in the performances, the cast featuring many familiar faces giving subdued performances of genuine emotion, principally dread, Mandy‘s Andrea Riseborough, The Nun‘s Demián Bichir and Deep Space Nine’s William Sadler as Detectives Muldoon, Goodman and Wilson, Star Trek Beyond‘s John Cho as Peter Spencer, Ouija‘s Lin Shaye as the tragic Faith Matheson and The Voices’ Jacki Weaver as Lorna Moody, the sympathetic assisted dying specialist who cannot help her.
Barely lit, the characters exist under the shadow which has been cast on their lives, the incurable blight which spreads from the house on Reyburn Drive, but with no attempt to develop a more complex narrative or vary the repeating format of madness and death, the established atmosphere gives way to jump scares and embarrassingly obvious digital blood, and ultimately The Grudge is something which has been carried far too long and needs to be forgiven and laid to rest.