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The Grudge 2
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Takashi Shimizu (director-screenwriter) and Stephen Susco (screenwriter)
Genre:   The Grudge 2
Released:   October 13, 2006
Review Date:   October 20, 2006
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

I don't understand it, but it looks creepy. — Aubrey

Japanese horror, or J-horror as it's known, is a squirrely beast. There's no denying that it's prodced some of the moodiest, creepiest and scariest films made. However, compared to American horror, J-horror seems to care less about plot and "making sense" than about being moody and scary. Unlike most American horror, which tends to be concerned about teens who still know what Elm Street destination you screamed at last summer on Friday the 13th, the "why" something is happening in Japanese horror is not nearly as important as the "what."

Like a cinematic California roll, The Grudge 2 takes elements of both cultures' scary movies and makes a blend that works.

2004's The Grudge, the American remake of Ju-On, got around this culture difference because the ghost had a pretty simple motivation — it died angry and it's still angry. This freed director Takashi Shimizu to focus on what made the Japanese original so effective, filling it with a thick atmosphere that grips you by the throat.

The Grudge 2 picks up where The Grudge left off, with Aubrey Davis (Amber "Joan of Arcadia" Tamblyn) going to Tokyo to bring home her hospitalized sister, Karen (Sarah Michelle "Where's Willow when you need her?" Gellar), the first movie's heroine. Like the original Grudge, the sequel interweaves two other stories with this main plot. First, we have the saga of three Japanese International High School girls: a nerd, Allison (Arielle "Aquamarine" Kebbel), and her two less-than-kind "friends" Miyuki and Vanessa. The second story follows a Chicago family, Trish (Jennifer "Flashdance" Beals) and her boyfriend Bill and his kids. How these three stories are connected is one of the driving mysteries of the movie. Each of the three storylines really works on its own but, as in the original, we get subtle clues as to which events happened in what order, each clue setting the stage for the next.

As in the first movie, Shimizu takes his time with each scene, moving slowly enough to fill the movie with genuine tension — sometimes almost too slowly. But The Grudge 2 is creepy, and it gives more scares than the first one. Some bits are similar, like the ghost sliding up under the covers of a bed, but these are given enough of a twist that they can still surprise you. Shimizu is very, very effective at setting up tense scenes where you just know that the ghost is behind the door or under something; but unlike horror flicks where this trope is annoying ("Just open the damned door already!"), he makes it genuinely suspenseful. You don't want the character to open the door or look under the thing. The film's excellent score also really helps make these scenes work.

Screenwriter Stephen Susco gives us characters we can care about, giving the movie real stakes. But even with these solid characters, the movie is far more concerned with mood and visuals than plot. And this creepy, oppressive tone, starting with the opening scene, never lets up. It maintains a constant level of "off-ness" and tension that never really resolves, even after the climax.

I also have to give actress Takako Fuji credit for her portrayal of the ghost Kayako. She makes her character scary; and her background as a contortionist lets her make Kayako move in some very unnatural-looking ways. She has easily surpassed The Ring's Samara as the scariest ghost to come from Japan.

The Grudge 2 is a rare beast, a sequel that is moody and effective, maintaining the tone and feel of the original while breaking new ground. It's scary, creepy, and will satisfy fans of American and J-horror alike.

RevSF staff writer Gary Mitchel always holds a grudge for a very long time -- after he makes sweet, sweet love to it.

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