"I think something followed me home." — Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough)
The overworked American horror market was given a shot of vitality in 2002 with the release of The Ring, inaugurating a flood of imports and remakes dubbed J-horror, and immediately followed by 2004's The Grudge, writer/director Takashi Shimizu's successful transliteration of his own 2002 Japanese original, Ju-On.
In each version of The Grudge, Shimizu combined striking and terrifying imagery with an intriguing storyline, in the process upending some genre conventions — principally, "If you leave the haunted house, you'll be safe." Like the characters who brought the curse out of the house with them, the sight of the ghostly Kayako and the sound of her rasping, strangled breath rattled moviegoers long after they left the theater.
There was an inevitable sequel, also directed by Shimizu, which suffered from a little too much cross-cutting between three distinct sets of characters affected by Kayako's curse, but Shimizu's penchant for atmosphere and imagery still rendered it an acceptable entry. There was a third installment in 2009 — released directly to video — which I've never seen.
Now there's another identically titled The Grudge, not written or directed by Shimizu, which I mistakenly presumed meant it was the needless remake/reboot Sony Pictures has reportedly been thirsting for since at least 2013. It's not. It's a direct sequel to the other films, as we briefly see the house in Japan and later hear a line of throwaway dialogue invoking Kayako and her curse. But that's the end of anything it shares with the exotic locale of Japan and the mystery of its superstitions.
And while it’s not a reboot, It's still needless.
This new storyline follows Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) — I'm not sure they ever even mention her first name — a recent widow who takes a new job in a small town, where she learns that her new police partner (Demián Bichir) and others have been involved in a series of perplexing crimes at a local residence formerly inhabited by a woman who, years earlier, was employed as a caregiver in — you guessed it — Kayako's house in Tokyo.
Like The Grudge 2, this sequel crosscuts between several sets of characters separated by time and space. Where sometimes such a device might be used deliberately to make a point, here it seems mostly ill-planned and confusing. It's difficult even to drum up any sympathy for familiar faces like John Cho, Lin Shaye, William Sadler and Jacki Weaver, as none are afforded sufficient screen time to develop any sort of characterization in between the jump scares, which are nowhere near as well staged as Shimizu's creepiness.
Then there are the inevitable questions as to why, when a character has already seen ample evidence that there's supernatural shenanigans going on, she would proceed through her house, also home to her eight-year-old son, at night turning all the lights off. I mean, who does this? I don't even believe in any of this stuff, but I still turn on as many lights as possible because, you know, I might be wrong. Not that the lights would necessarily help in the face of forces that can defy death and skip dimensions, but it's still instinct to turn them on.
To be fair to writer/director Nicolas Pesce, there is a clever audio jump-cut that elicits a noticeable and appropriate audience response, but that cut is a fraction of a second in a 134-minute film. That fleeting instance of inspiration can't make up for laborious scenes that elicit more laughter and groans from the audience than gasps or screams. I don't recall, in Shimizu's films, anybody laughing at Kayako, her son, Toshio, or their cat, Mar.