Takashi Shimizu who wrote and directed the original J-horror version of The Grudge, Ju-On, delivers the North American adaptation that isn’t quite as creepy and unnerving as the source material, as it tries to find a blending of Western and Eastern film styles that doesn’t always work.
I remember Ju-On freaked me out the first time I saw it, that kid really did me in, not to mention the crawling down the stairs… gah. Neither of these are quite as creepy in this version of the film. The story, however, is still set in Japan, and honestly, could be woven into the larger Ju-On tapestry, marrying in with the original and the sequels as part of a whole.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen, a young care worker living and working in Japan, while her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr) studies architecture. She receives her first work alone assignment, and it proves to be a kicker. She arrives at a house that is in shambles, the resident, played by Grace Zabriskie, seems bed ridden, and incapable of looking after herself.
When Karen has an encounter with a strange young boy, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) the film begins to leap back and forth through time, telling a connecting tale, layering story upon story to build the foundation for this vengeful, haunted house story.
The peeled back layers introduce us to character played by Ryo Ishibashi, Clea DuVall, Bill Pullman, and William Mapother, all of the tying into a house that has a horrifying past, and has remained a place of anger and pain ever since, exacting terror and death from any who choose to cross its threshold.
Despite the solid actors, and a fairly good adaptation of the story, it just doesn’t feel as frightening as the original, it’s a little too Western in its storytelling, and has consequently eschewed some of that unique Eastern flair that makes this ghost story so truly unnerving.
For all that, Gellar feels perfectly cast, and is able to imbue Karen with a reality that some of the actors in the film can’t bring to their roles. Having said that, there was no real reason to give us a white-washed version of the story just to make it more accessible to the english speaking world. And while I love that Shimizu was able to direct this adaption of his own film, I wish, instead, that Western studios and cinema goers had been more supportive of the original.
It’s unfortunate that the film didn’t translate as well to North American audiences, but the source material is truly worth hunting down. As J-horror has proven to be an amazing treasure trove for horror fans.