Friday, November 17, 2006

The Grudge 2

(2006) ***1/2

In the heady days before the contest, one of our local big theaters was giving out these mini Grudge 2 posters, so I had each of my friends get one and give it to me. I arrayed them above my couch as Horrorthon decoration; now Toshio could watch the Horrorthon with me...six of him. I liked the way the white half-faces were shaped by the black, it reminded me of the monster from It Came from Outer Space. Later, my roommate brought home an eight-foot tall vinyl poster from the other local big theater, where he works. My intention was to hang it on the adjacent wall in my room, but an ill-placed vent on that wall meant I'd need a ladder to hang it high enough. My temporary get-the-wrinkles-out spot just became the spot, and so I've been loudly advertising this movie to anyone who happens through our back yard. Since I'd taken part in the hype so much, I figured it would be bad form to miss viewing Grudge 2 for the contest, and like Saw Day I crammed it in right at the end.

With the singular exception of The Ring, Hollywood's courtship of J-Horror has been a pretty clumsy affair. The Grudge 2 is the best forward step I've seen yet, topping the first one by successfully hitting that all-important mood. The first time we see the horrible ghost, it's another fine example of Shimizu's talent at the scare. A hapless schoolgirl is trapped in the closet when Kayako's pale, croaking face comes floating down from the attic opening. She's either crawling head first or she's just a floating head, you can't tell, and the effect is instantly riveting.

When Sarah Michelle Gellar's storyline is introduced, her sister is phoned by their bedridden mother. Between Mom having to hit the oxygen and Amber Tamblyn's reluctance to get her sister from Japan, the dread is wonderfully palpable. And before Amber can even get her coat off, her sister's body lands on the concrete right in front of her. The mood is bleak and hopeless and off to a great start.

Unfortunately, I found the rest of the movie to be hit-or-miss, with the misses increasing as the three storylines went forward. Some of the hits were stellar, and all of the stories have some great scares to offer. One of my favorites was the drawn-out look Kayako gives the reporter, peering out of his darkroom tray with her fingers hooked over the rim. It was a beautiful, Edward Gorey-like moment that gave me shivers. The Chicago storyline offers some deft touches as well; I liked when stepmom Jennifer Beals has her ear to the wall of the next-door neighbor's room, the epicenter of the haunting. The milk scene that I'mnotMarc mentions in his review is a good one, too. (And here's JPX's review while I'm at it.)

So what's my problem? Part of it was the explanations that got trotted out. Kayako's journal was a neat visual touch, with that eye peeking through the pages, but as a plot device it was too pat. I took a class on Japanese cinema once, and I recall symbolic tendency to equate the East with dark shadows and the West with obnoxious, invading light. I felt this mystery-solving influence at work here; there's a scene in which Amber and her Japanese reporter friend find out Kayako's mom was a healer of sorts who would exorcise people's evil spirits and feed them to her daughter. Do you find that interesting? Yeah, me neither.

My other problem was one I had with the first Grudge, that after a while Kayako just seems like a croaking jack-in-the-box and her manifestations are no longer frightening. In the climax of the first one, this just got silly: she's crawling down the stairs towards Buffy, then she's in the doorway behind her, then she's -- you get the idea. In #2 there are a number of clunkers, and it got me down. One character says to Amber "you've brought her with you!" and then we get the blurry POV of that person, and Amber is just suddenly replaced by Kayako and she starts crawling towards the camera. C'mahhhn.

There's a minor whodunnit-style mystery to the layout of the three storylines that kind of bugged me. They actually do offer the answer of how the two Tokyo storylines relate to each other time-wise, so the Chicago question is "who is the mysterious figure in the hoodie?" It's not much of a mystery, really.

Despite each having shortcomings, both Japan storylines end on high notes, particularly Amber Tamblyn's. We find out where the croaking noise comes from and get a peek into the real reason for Kayako's wrath. It's implied, as in original Ju-on, that her husband's rage has more to do with this curse than the mother and son's ubiquitous presence might suggest.

It's frustrating to fathom the East/West split with the Ju-on/Grudge movies since they're all made by the same director. Was he pressured to provide more answers for the new audience? Was it some committee who demanded more big music cues to go with the scares? Did Shimizu tweak the vibe himself because he thought it necessary? Or do the circumstances of Eastern moviemaking just intrinsically boost the art by making the artists work with limitations?

Well...I sure don't know. Something to watch for as these remakes keep happening. I choose to remain optimistic; they'll make another Ring one of these days.


Summerisle said...

I was disappointed I didn't squeeze this one in but there's always next year. I just realized I went the entire 'thon with no J-horror. I knew I was forgetting something...

I love that poster, is that thing still hanging up?

I'm not gonna hold my breath for another Ring but it's encouraging to hear that the genre managed to bounce back after the atrocious Ring 2.

Octopunk said...

I didn't mean another actual Ring movie, I meant, you know, a movie as good.

Ring 2? I know no Ring 2. There is no such movie.