DVD Release Date:  February 6, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  October 13, 2006
Rating:  Unrated (but theatrical release was PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence and some sensuality)
Genre:  Horror
Run Time:  108 min.
Director:  Takashi Shimuzu
Actors:  Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Edison Chen, Sarah Roemer, Sarah Michelle Gellar

When Japanese director Takashi Shimuzu brought his successful horror film series, “Juon,” to the United States in 2004, few critics hailed “The Grudge” as a cinematic masterpiece.  It did receive decent reviews, however, for its ability to frighten audiences – the primary criterion by which a horror movie is judged.  “The Grudge” performed well at the box office, too. 

So it was only natural that the film’s original producers (which include Sam Raimi, director of the “Spider-Man” films) wanted to see if they could recreate the magic.  As with most sequels, however, it hasn’t happened.  Even if you liked the original “Grudge,” you probably won’t connect to this convoluted, lackluster sequel. 

“The Grudge 2” picks up where the other left off, with Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in a Japanese hospital.  She has just tried to burn down the house where all the horrific murders occurred, in the hopes of killing off the groaning ghost Kayako (Takako Fuji) and her meowing ghost-child.  No such luck, though.  The creepsters are still alive and infuriated that they were murdered (by her husband, the kid’s father).  They’ve got a grudge, baby, and they’re taking it out on everyone, including perfect strangers.  As a matter of fact, anyone who even looks at that house – along with a few who don’t – is going to die.

At a prestigious international prep school in Tokyo, the young Allison (Arielle Kebbel) longs to be accepted by high school mean girls Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Miyuki (Misako Uno).  So she follows them to the haunted house where a man reportedly killed his wife, son and cat.  Yeah, cat.  ‘Cause you know a dude is really bad when he knocks off animals.  There, predictably scary things start to happen which begin a slow (and I do mean slow) countdown toward all their deaths.

Back home in the States, Karen's terminally ill mother (Joanna Cassidy) insists that her daughter Aubrey ("Joan of Arcadia's" Amber Tamblyn) go to Japan and bring back her sister Karen to Pasadena.  Karen is now under restraints in a Tokyo hospital.  They think she’s loco, but only because they can’t see the deathly pale ghosts with the wet stringy hair who are following her.  Oh, scary!  But they do kill, these ghosts, even if I can’t figure out how, since they use no weapons.  Well, actually it’s only the mother who’s offing people and making them disappear, but she does use her bare hands.  Pretty strong for a scrawny ghost who can’t have much time for working out.  Then again, maybe that is her training regimen. …

Anyway, even though the sisters are estranged, Aubrey heads to Japan.  There, she meets the journalist who pulled her sister out of the fire.  Eason (Edison Chen) has been covering this “story” for three years and has a lot of information, like all the evil, occult stuff Kayako’s mother forced her to do when she was a child.  So was it that or the murder that made her so evil?  Hmmm. … Leaving Karen’s (minute spoiler here) corpse to deal with itself, and her dying mother to wonder what has happened to her daughters, Easin and Aubrey set out to investigate.

Flashback two years to Chicago.  A family that consists of father Bill (Christopher Cousins), new wife Trish (Jennifer Beals), and his son Jake (Matthew Knight) and daughter Lacey (Sarah Roemer) moves into an apartment, where Jake begins noticing strange, strange things next door.  Unlike everyone else visited by the curse, who are simply terrified then die, this dad is afflicted with obsessive jealousy while his wife gets struck into a catatonic state before pouring burning oil on her husband’s head.  Before long, they’re all dead – but not without the timelines flashing forward and backwards a few times, to confuse you even more.

The film flip-flops between these three subplots and timeframes, ending with a completely nonsensical ending and everyone as dead as that cat.  Then, just in case you were in the bathroom and missed a few scenes, the director generously shows them all to you once again before wrapping things up with a recreation of the original murder (already shown in the opening credits as well) of the mother, son and cat, which started off all the curse business in the first place.

Is it scary?  Okay, a little.  We see some creativity (if you can call it that) with the ghost appearances, such as one in a darkroom and another in a school counselor’s office.  But because character development is so limited, I didn’t really care that people were dying – even though most of them weren’t “bad,” as are American horror-movie victims.  You know, the teenagers having sex – dead.  The one smoking pot – dead.  Making fun of his mother – dead.  Hey, at least there’s some kind of message there, even if it is way too obvious.  But here, things are completely random.

The dialogue is primitive at best, with characters speaking in constant horror-movie cliches.  “Ever since your sister went in that house she felt like…someone was there with her, watching her,” Easin says.  “I’ve got no choice but to go back to that house.”

“I’m going with you,” Aubrey replies, behaving as illogically as all horror-movie victims.  “I’m not leaving here until I find out why my sister is dead.”  Yeah, yeah, we know.  Go back to that house and get yourself killed, sister.  That makes a lot of sense.  So she does, of course.

The acting?  Not bad, with the exception of a few Japanese characters who ham it up far too much.  The main characters talk very little, however – can’t take away from that swooping, scary violin score, you know.  Their real job is basically to be scared, which they do well.  Equally acceptable is the directing, which offers a few frights; the Japanese setting, which lends authenticity; and the cinematography, which is appropriately grey and blue throughout.

The real problem is the script, which is a redundant rehash of the first.  It wasn’t great to begin with and now it’s worse.  And again, that’s assuming you like watching people being murdered and terrified to begin with.  And that, my friends, is the crux.  Because what’s the point of a horror movie?  And do we really want those images in our head, when the world is constantly pumping out terrifying, gruesome news that is real?

American horror movies tend to focus on human evil, but this one has a supernatural bent, with many occult elements, including exorcism and child abuse.  Worse, however, is the film’s overt message, which is that nothing can stop a curse once it’s unleashed. 

“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born,” states the opening sequence of the film.  “The curse gathers in that place of death.  Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury.”

Even if you believe this mumbo jumbo, you’ve got to trust that there’s something greater than revenge in the world, which is nowhere near as powerful as the forces of good.  The great news is, there is.

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Multiple Behind the Scenes Featurettes
  • Unrated Extended Cut Exclusives, including:
    • Extra footage “too scary to be shown in theaters”
    • Tales from “The Grudge” with Sam Raimi introduction
    • Additional Deleted Scenes & Featurette

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:   None.
  • Language/Profanity:   A few mild expletives.
  • Occult:  Continual references to a curse; characters discuss witchcraft-like practices; flashback scene with exorcism and child make to “take” the demons from a woman.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Husband yells at wife, implying that she is being unfaithful; “Ghost child” appears naked in several scenes but without visible genitalia; locker room scene with multiple high school girls undressing and conversing while wearing panties and bras; high school girls refer to “getting it on;” one suggests that her teenage friend should have sex with her boyfriend in a haunted house, because they are so “adventurous;” teenage couple visit a hotel together and pick out a room, where boy showers (seen partially-nude while showering, then in a towel) and girls looks at condom; they kiss and prepare to have sex but are interrupted;
  • Violence:   Multiple deaths of varying degrees, but few are bloody or gruesome.  Wife dies after husband strangles her.  Child dies after father drowns him.  Cat dies after owner throws him violently.  Man dies after oil is poured on his head.  Woman is killed then thrown from the roof of a building.  Characters are continually haunted, terrified and touched by a ghost before “succumbing” to her – usually offscreen.