The reaction most people have had upon the release of 2020’s Grudge is “there’s another grudge?” That’s how you know you screwed up.
Yep, The Grudge, both the title of the film and the titular “grudge” curse, are back. This time it’s in the form of a side sequel of sorts, which takes place concurrently with the main series and still has a minor element of the Japanese original, Ju-On.
The tale is told in a fragmented series of stories taking place in different timelines, anchored by Andrea Riseborough, who plays Detective Muldoon: a cop investigating the series of murders initiated by a mysterious curse. The thing is the re-use of this concept is utterly pointless, and completely takes away from any sense of tension or dread by stopping the film in its tracks constantly.
I get that it’s on-brand to go non-linear and jump around. But in the end, the editing feels like a pastiche of random horror tropes but without any clever ideas to tie them together. It’s almost humorous how everyone gets wrapped up in the curse, and the cop angle ultimately goes nowhere and serves as a way to shove procedural crime elements in.
The thing is, the performances, taking into account what they have to work with, are fine. Riseborough is fine, John Cho is completely wasted, but fine, Betty Gilpin (another up and comer who deserves better) is also fine. Then you have veterans like Jacki Weaver and Frankie Faison doing their best to add gravitas to a film that is content with meandering. It’s a shame.
The film ultimately gives us zero reason to care about the grudge. There’s no emotional connection to it, the 2020 entry just assumes you already are invested in this series. Maybe that would work for a franchise that’s pumping out yearly entries, but there hasn’t been a western Grudge release in nearly 11 years: the decision to simultaneously tie it into the franchise and make it a standalone film is baffling.
It doesn’t help that the horror elements, the only real form of respite, are toothless. The R-rated had to be implemented for marketing purposes because there’s barely any gore or worthwhile scares to witness. There’s no real dread, just occasional soulless jump scares and some decent gross-out moments.
Like many tacked-on horror sequels or prequels, The Grudge (I must stress, 2020, because the 2004 western original still holds up) is a pointless offering to the franchise machine. Its biggest sin? The production team hired a bunch of talented people and did nothing with them. That’s the real curse.