"Ju-On, The Grudge" is not an easy movie to find in America (or at least it wasn't when I first wrote this review) , and after hearing it hyped to the heavens in magazines such as Fangoria and Rue Morgue, and by word of mouth as well, I knew I had to see it. I finally tracked it down in LA and watched it the very first chance I got to do so.
Ju-On is a chapter story about a haunted house in a Tokyo suburb. The film begins when an inexperienced social worker shows up at the house and comes face to face with the horror within. The story jumps around from past to present, its chapters focusing on one character at a time until it has come full circle. Everyone unwise enough to enter the cursed house winds up dead, the haunting spreading like a virus. It seems that a terrible murder once took place in this house and the rage surrounding the act of violence has spawned its own evil curse. To enter the house is to be immediately infected and the haunting follows people home, driving them to near madness before dragging them away, never to be seen again.
Ju-On bears more than a passing resemblance to its popular predecessor "Ringu" and is nowhere near as frightening, but it's not a bad film by any means. Butchered mother-ghost Kayako is very Sadako-like, crawling around with her long black hair in her face and moving with unearthly jerkiness. Her blue-white face is quite startling with its huge staring eyes and occasional splashes of blood. Her ghost son, Toshio, is both sad and frightening, appearing both as a normal boy and a pale, wide-eyed ghost. Many of the films most frightening sequences feature the murdered woman Kayako: her head full of black hair peeking around a corner, her shadow moving down a corridor and filling a security camera, a head-on shot of her crawling through an attic at night with only the beam of a flashlight illuminating her. The sound effects are quite disturbing as well and the performances are convincingly well done.
I wasn't as scared by this movie as had been promised I would be, but that's what happens when you buy into the hype. I was simply expecting too much, and I got a pretty good ghost story instead. Ju-On is good. It's not great, but it's a decent, straightforward ghost story with more than enough scary moments to please most horror fans. Ringu was scarier, but Ju-On is a noble effort. Like most Asian horror stories, it remains ambiguous and open-ended, leaving room for both a sequel and the chance for you to decide for yourself what the curse of The Grudge really is.
7 out of 10 stars.
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