The only worthwhile grudge here is the one you’ll develop against the filmmakers for kicking 2020 off with this dreary and unnecessary re-remake.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that The Grudge (2020), a horror movie released in January as the remake of the American remake of the so-so Japanese original, isn’t very good. But we can and should be disappointed by the fact nonetheless since this effort is courtesy of promising writer/director Nicolas Pesce (Piercing), whose obvious talents feel wasted on this tedious, reiterative litany of jump-scares and reheated concepts.
Unlike The Ring, which enjoyed a similar treatment a while back in the abysmal Rings, this film doesn’t bother to contemporize its famous curse, which for the uninitiated is birthed by violent crimes committed in circumstances of extreme rage (aren’t most of them?). Here, Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) visits the crib from the 2004 version and, when she returns Stateside, brutally murders her husband Sam (David Lawrence Brown) and daughter Melinda (Zoe Fish). With the cooties now passed on to Pennsylvania, a new cast of surprisingly good actors is drawn to the doomed abode in various nonlinear stories, each with one or two cool-looking scares and an overwhelming undercurrent of humorless misery and suffering.
One shouldn’t expect a horror film to be funny, obviously, but Pesce’s version of The Grudge is notably morbid, which works less to build an unsettling atmosphere than it does to render the whole thing dreary and unpleasant. The facile pleasures of predictable jump-scares — overused here, obviously — can’t even escape from the mire of existential torment these characters are trapped in, and that’s often without the curse; real estate agents Peter and Nina Spencer (John Cho and Betty Gilpin) are expecting a child with a deadly genetic disease, William Matheson (Frankie Faison) wants to euthanize his wife of half a century (horror legend Lin Shaye) because she’s succumbing to dementia, Detective Wilson (William Sadler) has been driven mad, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) is on her way, and risks her own young son Burke (John J. Hansen) in the process — it is, to put things simply, a lot.
But it’s a whole lot of nothing, really. The Grudge (2020) retains the same overarching concept as its predecessors but virtually none of their iconic characters or imagery, and it doesn’t inform them or rectify some of their missteps. It’s a retread of the same haunted-house death-by-jump-scare shenanigans with a hopeless tone and an endless procession of wasted actors and ideas; Pesce is a good filmmaker and is able to wring some effective moments out of a doubtlessly competent film, but he’s unable to justify its existence or make it interesting enough to recommend. Here’s one curse that apparently can’t be lifted.