The manifestation of evil depicted in Ju-on: The Grudge occasionally utters one of the most effectively unnerving noises I've ever heard. It's low, yawning sound that lands somewhere at the intersection of burp, death rattle and creaky door. I was first exposed to this sound via the American remake of the film, simply titled The Grudge. I've don't remember much about that movie, but that noise stuck with me. The noise is just as effectively employed in the original version, but once again, almost everything else is forgettable.
The story begins with a young woman named Rika (Megumi Okina, Shutter), a home-care worker who has been tasked with checking in on an elderly patient living in an old, abandoned home. Shortly after arriving at the house, Rika begins seeing and hearing strange things: a creepy-sounding cat, a boy with a ghostly-white face and... uh, something else. It seems that the house is haunted, but why? Where did that boy come from? What's the deal here? Alas, Rika ends up dead before she finds out much of anything, and we move on to another character who will work to uncover a tiny sliver of the mystery.
Ju-on has a lot of problems, but the biggest one is that it's difficult to care about anyone. The film plays out as a series of connected vignettes, but none of the characters get any memorable qualities or interesting dialogue. The people in this movie are nothing more than meat for the film's supernatural murder factory; pawns marching towards another strange death as irritating metallic sounds are conjured by the film's score. There are countless moments that ought to be frightening, but lack any real impact because we have no investment whatsoever in the inevitably doomed new protagonist we're watching.
This might not have been an issue if the mystery of this bizarre curse were a compelling one, but it isn't. Ju-on throws a lot of creepy imagery around over the course of its 92-minute running time (indeed, director Takashi Shimizu's greatest gift seems to be putting together individual frames that suggest a far more terrifying movie), but far too little of that imagery is grounded in a comprehensible story. The final reel offers a vague explanation of what's going on, but it's a huge disappointment: after an abundance of hallucinatory visuals, the film's big reveal is the narrative equivalent of a bored shrug.
Making matters even worse is the fact that most of the humans don't have the good sense to run away when they see some horrifying spectre of death approaching them at a snail's pace. They have a maddening tendency to stand there in shock, gaping in horror until there's a scream, a quick cut and a shot of their corpse on the floor. I feel bad for not feeling bad, but who can pity such dimwits? The terror in each actor's eyes probably comes from the realization that the next page of their script is empty.
Ju-on: The Grudge
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Year: 2002