At the very least, The Grudge 2 makes for a fascinating experiment. A direct sequel to the perfunctory remake of director Shimizu Takashi’s own horror classic Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), the movie serves to transition the franchise once and for all from Japan to the United States. Now, some of you may be wondering why a series spawned from an American adaptation would need a bridge to its own shores. That’s because, rather than import the original concept to the Western world, 2004’s The Grudge opted to export Western characters to the original story, reusing a lot of the same settings, effects, characters, and even actors.
In fact, I contended in my review of The Grudge that the Japanese and American films could take place in the same continuity. The Grudge 2 confirms this in a throwaway exchange wherein a Hong Kong journalist points out to Detective Nakagawa (Ishibashi Ryo) that several families have died in the Saeki house and now even Americans are falling prey to the ghost of Kayako (Fuji Takako). I like the implication that the Ju-On curse has become a bigger problem for the authorities because it’s started affecting foreigners. This works as an indictment of both the Japanese justice system for prioritising appearances and Western media for attributing greater value to white people’s lives.
Having mentioned this, I remain befuddled at how little the characters speak Japanese, which strikes me as a requirement if you’re going to operate in Japan. In fairness, The Grudge 2 does make a point of pairing every Tokyo native with a gai jin or nine (the prefecture is apparently overrun with white folk), providing a reasonable excuse for their always speaking English. Also, one of the main threads unfolds in Chicago, Illinois, giving us a glimpse at how an onryō curse manifests itself on American soil.
True to the original series, The Grudge 2 functions more as an anthology than a standard monster flick, albeit the handy chapter titles from Ju-On: The Grudge have once again been left out. This allows screenwriter Stephen Susco to leap back and forth between three different storylines, melding them into a single narrative despite their taking place years apart. It’s a lot less confusing than you might think, though I’ve heard a lot of people complain just the same. The parallel threads only join in the final scene, you see, kind of like in a Saw sequel, except without the obnoxious “gotcha” flashbacks.
The first subplot picks up where The Grudge left off, with Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) having just burnt down the haunted Saeki estate. Her sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) flies in from California and teams up with Eason (Edison Chen), the aforementioned journalist, to uncover Kayako’s sordid childhood, which, to be blunt, adds nothing interesting to the myth. I’m reminded of the scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) in which it’s revealed that Freddy is “the bastard son of a thousand maniacs”. Honestly, who cares?
The second storyline centers on Allison (Arielle Kebbel), a high school student who’s peer pressured into visiting the abandoned Saeki house. This thread in The Grudge 2 plays out much like a typical slasher, with the slutty bullies getting knocked off one by one until our virginal heroine has no choice but to face the monster alone. To quote The Cabin in the Woods (2012), “whether she lives or dies is optional.” As an aside, the white Ju-On makeup just doesn’t work on Caucasian faces. Maybe it’s got something to do with their more angular jaw lines. Maybe I’ve seen a few too many The Munsters reruns. Either way, I kept giggling when I rightly should’ve been terrified.
The final plotline in The Grudge 2 sets up the future of the franchise, as Kayako and her son Toshio (Ozeki Yuya) haunt an apartment complex in Chicago and drive its tenants insane. I dig that the filmmakers took a more cerebral approach for these scenes, creeping us out not with gore or jump scares but with absurd behaviour like drinking and regurgitating the same gallon of milk over and over again or pouring hot bacon grease on your new husband’s noggin. It all builds to a spectacular display of surrealism that unsettled me to the core.
The details of how the Ju-On curse made its way across the Pacific Ocean are revealed bit by bit in all three storylines. It’s a complicated mechanic, making The Grudge 2 heavier in plot than all the other instalments in the series combined. This strikes me as a good thing overall, though I suspect a fair amount of tension is lost as a result. More importantly, for all of the film’s awkwardness, I remember leaving the theatre eager for more Kayako in America. That may not seem like much, but really it’s the whole point.