Although the word "grudge" doesn't quite fit the bill as part of the title of a horror film -- one thinks THE CURSE would have been more appropriate but such is the "curse" of translation -- JU ON holds up extremely well as a horror film. Built upon a notion that when someone dies victim of extreme rage, the emotions are left behind and this overpowering, negative emotion will kill anyone who comes into the house, JU ON first gives us a grainy montage at the start of the story of what seems to be a man killing away his entire family. This sets the events that come next, told in a non-linear way so as to disorient the viewer of what has happened/will happen like for example, why is the old lady seemingly living in squalor in this otherwise impersonal looking place, and what part does her most recent caretaker, Rika (Megumi Okina) have to play there?
I've always believed that using subtly disturbing images instead of bringing the horror up front in a broad manner creates more of a punch for the viewer. Amping up the dread, even when the horror seems inevitable, creates a sensation of anguish because one knows that something is terribly out of kilter in this house. What director Shimizu does here with introducing the old lady in the unkempt house by having us see her hands weakly bang on the rice door, and then having her stare vacantly out to nowhere as Rika tries to clean up the place only to later meet the entities in the house, is unsettling as anything else that comes later. She whispers, mantra-like, something closely rendered to an "I told you so" and one only has to see the mounting horror in her old eyes to know something horrible is about to happen to her while Rika witnesses this and faints in horror. It doesn't matter that one sees the little boy running around and then mutely screaming in that cat-like shriek, or the shadow and croak of someone even worse... it's the inexorability in which this curse comes forth and attacks this old, defenseless lady, and then each person who has come/will come in contact with it, and when it becomes clear that the curse is not bound only to the haunted house but is in fact a growing web of death, the rug gets neatly pulled out from the viewer's feet, because safe becomes only a word and something wicked this way comes.
This is a film that people will love or hate. I don't think there will be an in-between feeling. The way that these ghosts manifest themselves as if they were part of the living, leaving hand-prints and footprints behind, the way that horror draws itself on screen -- in barely there suggestions like when Rika is wheel-chairing an elderly man who is making faces; we see the one second reflection on a glass door of Toshio, the malevolent boy --, the way the actors react to fear which is anti-Hollywood, the non-use of swelling music but the use of eerie sounds, this is one very spooky film which can stand aside some of the greatest ever filmed. Quiet yet intense, relying on atmosphere and dread, JU ON is very chilling, and very effective. This is the horror that is rarely done today.
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