The Grudge

The Grudge (2004)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ted Raimi, William Hurt
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, PReviews

Since "Ringu" Japanese horror movies are all the rage here in the US, but mind you, not all of them are actually any good, and what works for Japanese audiences does not necessarily translate well to American moviegoers. For that reason Hollywood studios occasionally remake Japanese horror hits to give them a Western feel, as was the case with "The Ring." The same happened with "The Grudge," a movie whose original played very well in Japan. Unlike "The Ring" which hwas completely westernized, with "The Grudge" Columbia Pictures took a more restrained route. Hiring the same director who created the original film, leaving its location in Tokyo with a cast consisting mostly of Japanese actors, the filmmakers added only a few Hollywood actors to create an American feel. I was curious to find out if they succeeded as well as "The Ring" did.

After relocating to Tokyo with her boyfriend, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) still has some difficulties getting around the foreign country. A nurse by profession her first assignment is to assist an elderly American woman in her house when the nurse that was originally assigned to her did not show up for work one day. Karen visits the house in question and soon finds that it unsettles her tremendously. There are strange noises throughout the house and she finds a little boy locked up in a closet. Unable to communicate with either the boy or the lethargic woman she calls her superior for help. While she is waiting shadows seem to begin to move around the house and suddenly Karen is faced with a terror she would never have dreamed of. The house is cursed and like many before her she has fallen under its spell.

Full of sinister, foreboding imagery, "The Grudge" turns out to be a pretty intense horror film. Although the majority of the effect comes from stingers – unexpected split second shocks that take viewers by surprise and make you jump – it also has a brooding atmosphere that is unsettling. Not quite as strong as in "The Ring" but suspenseful and intense nonetheless. Japanese horror films have a very different structure and look from American films and these elements are nicely carried through, creating some unique moments and strong, memorable visuals. There is something about the Kabuki-style black and white makeup used in these films that makes you shudder as the hard-lined contrast in these faces becomes a perfect reflection of evil.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is presenting "The Grudge" in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The image is meticulously clean without a hint of dust or grain. Colors are strong and vibrant, creating a natural looking environment while the nightmarish scenes in the film take on hues and shades that are eerie to say the least. Black levels are rock solid making sure the image has good visual depth and also ensuring the shadows that make up a good portion of the horror are perfectly reproduced without losing detail. Definition of the image is extremely good throughout and no edge-enhancement or compression artifacts are distracting form the viewing experience.

The <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that comes on the DVD is also remarkable efficient. Making aggressive use of the surround channels, the sound mix enhances the experience immensely in this film, as we hear the evil all around us, building the intensity. Dialogues are natural and always understandable. A very understated score accompanies the film that never gets in the way of the story or the images. It is nicely mixed with a wide sound field and is so well done that it truly becomes one with the images and you won’t even notice it is really there oftentimes.

The DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring co-producer Sam Raimi, his brother Ted Raimi, who appears in the film, Sarah Michelle Gellar and others. It is an interesting commentary full of valuable tidbits about the making of the film in general, the shoot in Tokyo, the concept of working with Japanese filmmakers, and so forth. It is definitely worth checking out if you want to learn some more about the project as a whole.

A five-part documentary is also included covering different aspects of the movie’s production in more detail. The DVD is rounded out by "Under The Skin," a featurette that takes a closer look at the medical and neurological concept of fear and its implications on the body. What is fear, where does it come from and what happens inside our bodies are some of the topics discussed here, particularly in the context of experiencing fear through movies.

I found "The Grudge" to be an thoroughly enjoyable and tense film hat kept me on the edge throughout. The sinister undertones of the film, the sound effects, the strong visuals and of course the stingers, all make for a first rate horror film, much better than most of Hollywood’s fare of recent years, though you have to be open to the somewhat different Eastern sensibilities the film plays upon.