The Grudge 3 is a case of the filmmakers trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.
Ju-On is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. It's effective, subtle, creepy, and absolutely merciless. It's one of my rainy day go-to films. It's comfort food.
I liked the American remake, though not enough to own it on DVD. I enjoyed the American sequel for what it was. But every instinct told me to avoid The Grudge 3. I saw the panel for it at Comic-Con and they had a couple of the fresh faced young actors talking up the movie. The clip they brought along was the boyfriend returning to the haunted apartment. The room is pitch dark, he stumbles forward for a few seconds, there's a heartbeat of eerie silence, then Kayako reaches forward in the darkness. Cue soundtrack-spike jump effect and the lights go back up.
Objectively it all worked very well, especially that creepy moment of silence before Kayako strikes, but there was something off about it. Maybe it was the fact that actor was too pretty or the moment felt too rote, but the scene felt a little off. Adding to my ambivalence was the fact that it was a direct-to-DVD sequel with no direct involvement from Grudge creator Takashi Shimizu. I wound up giving it a pass.
I've been on a huge yurei kick lately. I'm tinkering with a ghost story and I'm reading the excellent Suicide Forest miniseries from IDW so it felt like a good time to revisit the Saeki family.
The story begins with the last surviving kid from The Grudge 2. He's locked up in an insane asylum and terrified that Kayako is going to kill her. The doctors don't believe him and lock him in a padded cell. Unfortunately, he's not alone...
The intro to the movie is actually really scary, due in no small part to the kid's acting talent. I've seen a lot of poor souls lead to their deaths because no one believed them, but this kid was spectacular. He really pulled the scene off. The doctor feels responsible for his death and returns to the apartment that the Saeki family are currently haunting. In the meantime, the landlord's sickly kid sister starts seeing Toshio and a mysterious Japanese woman moves into the building. It doesn't take long before chicks start crawling down the stairs.
As a basic creepy ghost story, The Grudge 3 works perfectly fine. The actors are surprisingly good, the atmosphere is suitably eerie, and it hits all the right notes. The problem is that it doesn't really feel like a Grudge film.
My first problem with the movie is we see WAY too much of Kayako in it.
The original Ju-on keeps her mostly out of sight. She's an indistinct shape in the window or a shadow on the wall or an out-of-focus lurker in a background. The only time we get a long extended look at her is when she's crawling down the stairs. That scene still stands as one of the creepiest things I've ever seen on film. Here, she shows up waaaaay too often, that crawl thing is overplayed, and you see that it's just a women with a lot of white make up on.
The second big problem I had with the movie is that Kayako just doesn't belong in Chicago. I get that yurei aren't necessarily bound to a single physical haunted location, but the logic for having her jump national boundaries was a little bit flimsy. A bunch of dead Japanese people haunting a run-down Chicago building full of attractive white actors feels discordant.
Finally, one of the things I loves about the original Ju-On was the way it told its story in little vignettes. The whole story takes place over a couple generations and we see how the evil in the house affects different people in different circumstances. That makes the horror of Kayako leaner and more graceful and frees the tale from the typical narrative tropes that haunt the ghost subgenre. Here, the story has a straight forward narrative almost lifted out of screenwriting 101. The characters have relationships laden with issues they don't discuss until they are brought to a crisis point. It's actually pretty well written and acted, but sticking to a formula sacrifices some of the intensity of the horror.
Despite all my harping, I enjoyed The Grudge 3. It's got a decent story, some solid scares, and I was engaged in it from beginning to end. It's a good horror film, but I don't quite think it's a good Grudge film.