The Grudge Review

Oct 21, 2004 | 2:26pm EDT

In the congested Japanese capitol of Tokyo Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is an American exchange student living with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr). Karen volunteers as a home-care worker to meet some required college credits and accepts an assignment to care for an elderly American woman after her regular nurse fails to show up for work. She finds the home in a total state of disarray and while cleaning up discovers a ghastly little boy inside a closet sealed with duct tape--and it gets worst. Her bedridden patient suddenly sits up and begins to talk to someone or something in the room and soon Karen witnesses something she has never seen before: The angry Ju-On spirit or "the curse of the grudge." Shocked by what she has seen Karen is briefly hospitalized and interrogated by police who try to make sense of what she saw inside the house. The police investigation reveals a gory murder-suicide took place inside the home barely one year ago and everyone who has entered the home has since gone missing--with the exception of Karen. Gellar's come a long way since playing Erica Kane's daughter on the ABC soap opera All My Children. And while her stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved she can obliterate any blood-sucking creature her starring role as the heroine in this petrifying thriller demonstrates she has the soul to carry a flick of this magnitude solo. Gellar's character Karen is sharp and likeable; as a student living in Tokyo nothing much fazes her as she blends into this reverse culture with unassuming ease. It's precisely Gellar's depth that adds intellect to a film genre highfalutin pundits often consider mindless and ingenuous. The Grudge costars Behr as Karen's appreciative boyfriend and Bill Pullman as a college professor but one of the most chilling performances comes from Grace Zabriskie as Emma the woman Karen is sent to care for. Her deterioration from a normal family matriarch to a woman lost in a catatonic state is extremely unnerving. Also pulling off a stellar performance is Yuya Ozeki as Toshio the ghost boy found in the closet. The Grudge is based on Japanese director Takashi Shimizu's two horror videos Ju-On and Ju-On 2 which were released in 2000 and instantly gained a cult following. The franchise also netted the attention of Spider-Man helmer Sam Raimi who gained critical success more than 20 years ago with the bloodcurdling slasher pic The Evil Dead and decided to serve as executive producer on the film's Hollywood version. Shimizu perfectly combines M. Night Shyamalan's mastery of suspense and The Ring scribe Hiroshi Takahashi's fear-generating skill to craft the most hair-raising horror movie to come along in decades. The crossover is effectively scary mostly because many of the original elements remained unchanged including Shimizu the supporting cast and most importantly the setting. The film's Tokyo locale plays a vital role in the film's unyielding creepiness; it's one thing to follow a character investigating a scratching sound coming from a closet in strange house but it's a whole other thing when it's a heroine isolated in a foreign country.

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