My first encounter with The Grudge came in 2004 after renting the American remake. The film was a piece of shit but I do fondly remember a half-awake Bill Pullman as Peter Kirk (same name as the founder of my hometown Kirkland, WA). Since I hated the film I never had any interest in seeing the original. Eventually, I took a Film and Religion class and oddly enough, Ju On: The Grudge was one of the films we watched. It was intriguing delving into how Japanese culture recognizes the power of spirits. “The Grudge” itself in the film represents a curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage or extreme sorrow. This curse is passed on person-to-person through the place of its inception and the aftermath isn’t pretty.
The film is split up in a non-linear fashion following the paths of six characters. The whole acts more as a series of jointed short films than a single narrative. The crux of the plot stems from a house where a tragic murder took place five years ago. There a father killed his wife and son in a fit of rage before killing himself. Since then, anyone who comes in contact with the house becomes a part of “The Grudge”.
What sets apart The Grudge from your typical ghost movie is the pacing. There’s plenty of time to develop story and character and then work you into a situation where you think you’re safe… But then you’re not. The Grudge even manages to add tension to scenes in the broad daylight, not an easy feat. Though a ghost movie is only as scary as its ghosts. In The Grudge we have the ghost of a young boy who makes cat noises and the ghost of an older woman with long dark hair. Each character carries pained visages frozen in terror, but it all comes home with the film’s infamous “death rattle”. A death rattle being one of the last sounds a person makes before they die. The buildup of saliva in the throat leaves for a rattling moan, and The Grudge utilizes this masterfully.
The Grudge is one of the finest in its sub-genre of intelligent, character-driven, Japanese ghost stories. It has gone on to spawn a handful of sequels (it itself being the third of a series) and remakes. There’s a charm to its simplicity but also a great uneasiness. It’ll make the drool drip down your throat.