Low cost and high quality: Japan is king when it comes to assembly line production ethos and Grudge 2 director Takashi Shimizu
takes that manufacturing approach in constructing this latest edition in the Grudge series. Block by block, shock by shock, he builds a movie that runs fine and looks slick. It's a solid product in terms of celluloid, but there is no soul, no artistry, in the merchandise. What went wrong? Enthusiasm. Shimizu seems to take pride only in the technical proficiency of his work. Actors be damned. Plot be damned. While there's nothing wrong with a really well-made but vacuous art-horror film (Dario Argento's entire canon fits this mold), there is no art in the Grudge 2, just cleverly staged shock shots stapled on to the other like the reels of skin in Sion Soto's Suicide Club (had to plug some good J-horror here somewhere.)
Perhaps this calculating demeanor is because Shimizu's essentially made the same film six times now. The first Ju-on in 2000. The second in 2000 as well. Then he did both of them again in 2003. Then the American remake in 2004. That makes Grudge 2 the sixth version of the same film made in only six years. (In between he made the similar Marebito and Rinne.) It's not surprising that the film feels mechanized, paint by numbers. Shimizu has either got it down so pat that he can operate on autopilot or he's just bored senseless. Article continues below
The plot -- as it is -- consists of random opportunities for the titular grudgely ghoulies (a family of pale ghosts) to plague the lives of common day schoolgirls (and one reporter) and scare the crap out of them while pulling them through mirrors or phone booths. There's really no reason to see the first film in the series -- you get the back story three of four times in this film -- but it goes a little something like this: A long time ago (I'm guessing it's the mid-'80s) a man killed his wife, child, and obnoxious black cat. Then he hung himself.
This ghastly crime was so atrocious it reverberates down through history and anyone entering the house the family was killed in will be haunted by the family unto death (or disappearance). Keeping with every J-horror cliché (Shimizu invented most of them) the mother ghost (with long black hair hanging in front of her eyes, natch) moves like she's being stop motion animated by teens looking to put something up on YouTube, the little boy ghost -- all blue 'cause he was drowned -- pops out from under desks and howls like a cat with laryngitis, and the dad rarely makes an appearance but when he does it's usually to crack some necks. Simple enough. And those visitations were creepy enough to fill the short running time of the first movie, but The Grudge 2 has no new game. We're treated to almost every ghosting and gruesome dispatch from the first film, just in a different order.
To be fair, Grudge 2 does have one intersteing and mildly original plot device. As things play out predictably in Japan, something rotten is happening in Chicago. A family moves into a new apartment to find the neighboring children seem to be possessed by something really eerie. This sideline plot (it connects up at the end of the film with the Japan hauntings) is more effective and honestly should have been the main focus of the picture (I know, I know, that will be Grudge 3.)
Shimizu knows how to make an effective shock sequence. He's good at tension. Good at lighting scary set pieces. But despite this technical proficiency there isn't an original bone in Grudge 2's over-long 95 minutes. Hell, if I'd made the same film six times I'd be pretty damn good at it too. That or really, really bored.