Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Grudge (2020): Because You Can’t Keep an Angry Ghost Down

It’s human-to-human transmission rate is minimal, but the site of Kayako Saeki’s violent angry death is 100% infectious. The death rate is nearly as high. It is time to go back to Tokyo circa 2004, where it all started for the American remake series. Instead of rebooting, the series branches off in a separate, simultaneous, but not so radically different direction in Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge, which releases today on DVD.

Flashback to 2004: Fiona Landers is an expat social worker in Japan, who pays an inspection visit to the house of horrors that started it all. She subsequently returns home, taking Kayako and her grudge with her. Soon, tragedy strikes the Landers family, as evil become deeply rooted in their home. That means Saeki is quite an efficient multi-tasker, since she was simultaneously tormenting Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge (2004).

For obvious reasons, the Landers House quickly develops an evil reputation. Det. Goodman still refuses to step foot inside it, which seems rather strange to his new partner, Det. Muldoon, since he ostensibly investigated the multiple homicides that occurred there. It wasn’t just the Landers who met untimely deaths. The realtors handling the sale of the property, Peter and pregnant Nina Spencer, met similar fates.

As is usually the case in horror movies, Muldoon relocated to exurban Pennsylvania hoping to find a safer, more stable environment to raise her son Burke after her husband’s devastating death from cancer. Needless to say, those plans go out the window once she enters the Landers house. From there on, she is in for the full Grudge treatment.

The Grudge 2020 is a respectable American installment in the franchise, but Pesce’s reputation as the indie auteur who helmed The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing will raise many fans expectations well above what the film delivers. We’ve seen just about all of it before, but Pesce does it with a surprisingly prestigious cast. There are two Oscar nominees in Grudge 2020: Demian Bichir, who is terrific as the devout but world-weary Goodman and Jacki Weaver, who helps humanize the thankless role of Lorna Moody, an assisted suicide activist, who pays an ill-fated visit to the current owners of the Landers house.

Andrea Riseborough is also quite strong as Muldoon, while John Cho and Betty Gilpin do as well as anyone could ask as the poor Spencers. Lin Shaye adds genre cred as Faith Matheson, the creepy, dementia-addled half of the couple who currently own the house. However, some of the best genre work comes from veteran character actor William Sadler, playing Goodman’s institutionalized ex-partner to the hilt.

Frankly, it is hard to guess a viewer’s response, if they are neither a fan of Pesce or the Grudge franchise. Pesce does some competent work-for-hire with possibly the best cast assembled for the American remake franchise. Pro-lifers might even find the film rather refreshing, since the Spencers chose life, under challenging circumstances, until Saeki chooses death for them, which is portrayed as a horrible thing to have happen. Not bad, but not outstanding, The Grudge is now available on DVD and VOD.