Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Bill Pullman, Ryo Ishibashi, Yuya Ozeki, Takako Fuji
Released on October 22, 2004
Running time: 1h 39m
BUUUUUFFYYYYYY! Heh-hey, I didn’t know Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in this movie! That’s awesome! Seriously, it is! I love Buffy!
In the tradition of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean horror movies like Ringu (The Ring), Chakushin Ari (One Missed Call), Gin Gwai (The Eye), Kairo (Pulse), Dark Water, Shutter, and A Tale of Two Sisters, Ju-on (The Grudge) has been remade for American audiences. Personally, it ties with The Ring as my favorite American remake of a Japanese horror movie. (And considering that One Missed Call and Pulse were both critically panned – 0% and 10% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively – that definitely evens out the playing field.) Japanese horror movies are a must-see for EVERY horror fan.
Our story begins in Japan (we learn later that this opening scene takes place three years prior to the main story), where we see Peter (Bill Pullman), a professor at a Japanese university, at his apartment. His wife, Maria (Rosa Blasi), wakes up just in time so see him commit suicide by throwing himself out of their apartment’s fifth(?) story window. Peter’s wife and Japanese passersby react as you’d expect.
We suddenly switch gears and we see Yoko (Yoko Maki), a hired maid, arriving at the home of Matt, (William Mapother) the husband, Jennifer, (Clea DuVall) the wife, and Emma, (Grace Zabriskie) Matt’s invalid mother. We later learn that these events happen a day prior to the main story. Matt and Jennifer aren’t home. Yoko starts cleaning the house, but, as you’d expect, she hears something in the attic. When she goes up to investigate, as expected, she sees a white face and is pulled up into the attic and is presumably killed. The white face belongs to a ghost of a Japanese woman, whose name is later revealed to be (the well-known horror icon) Kayako Saeki (Takako Fuji). We later learn that Yoko was indeed killed. Oh, and this scene and the next one are linear.
We finally transition to our main story, where we meet Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr). They’re college students studying abroad in Japan – well, at least Doug is. Karen works at an American-Japanese company run by her slightly-too-nice boss, Alex (Ted Raimi). Yoko didn’t show up for work, so Alex sends Karen to fill in for her. Karen cleans Matt, Jennifer, and Emma’s house better than Yoko, but also feels that something’s wrong. She goes to investigate, and finds the closet doors leading to the attic sealed with tape. She rips the tape off, opens the door, and encounters a little Japanese boy and his cat, named Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) and Mar respectively. For all Ju-on fans, you know that this is not going to end well. After calling Alex, Karen sees something in Emma’s room. She goes to investigate. At first there is nothing, but after a few seconds, an ethereal mass of black hair descends from the ceiling. Eyes open where the face would be. It kills Emma, and lunges at Karen.
The next scene occurs a few days prior to the scene with Yoko. Matt, Jennifer, and Emma move in to their house, accompanied by Matt’s sister Susan (KaDee Strickland), and already different characters (Emma and a Japanese realtor) feel as if there’s something wrong. After an uneventful day, Jennifer is lured into her bedroom, and, as expected, the door closes behind her. Matt arrives home, finds Jennifer in their bedroom with Toshio. Matt and Jennifer are locked in their room and killed.
We return to a visibly shaken Karen and a dead Emma as Alex finds them. After the police, led by Detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi), find the corpses of Matt and Jennifer and a bottom jaw in the attic, we see Karen in the hospital.
After being visited by Doug and interviewed by Nakagawa, Karen checks herself out of the hospital and begins her own investigation of the house and the evil that inhabits it.
It’s scary! It’s literally scary! Its scary moments are legitimately tense! Most of them are done right! They start decently and build real suspense, even though we’ve seen every one of these scares before! Most don’t even close with a jumpscare; they just use Japanese horror at its finest! It even managed to make me lose a little bit of sleep!
Once all the story is laid out, it actually is surprisingly easy to follow! It makes sense! Sure it’s nonlinear, but at least the scenes fit together like a puzzle!
The characters are developed! You feel for them! You even feel for Kayako! KAYAKO, OF ALL PEOPLE! They feel like real people! Buffy is incredible as she always is! Nakagawa is actually given backstory! He has friends that were claimed by the curse! You feel Peter’s pain when he discovers what happened at the Saeki place!
I don’t see why there is so much hate for this film. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of Japanese horror and American cinema.
Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s great despite some minor flaws.