Back when Ghost House Pictures first announced their remake of Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), I braced myself for the worst. I didn’t know Shimizu Takashi, the creative mind behind the original film, had been brought on board, so I feared that Hollywood would impose its formula on the material, that the plot would get streamlined to cater to slasher fans, that a greater emphasis would be put on gore and violence, and that exposition would take precedence over atmosphere. As it turns out, I expected something like The Grudge 3.
Consider the opening teaser, in which Jake (Matthew Knight), who apparently survived the previous movie, gets drawn and quartered by the ghost of Kayako (Horiuchi Aiko). Whereas The Grudge (2004) and The Grudge 2 (2006) both start with a death scene so absurd as to leave us deeply perturbed and disoriented, The Grudge 3 goes for shock tactics more befitting of torture porn: mutilate a child in a gratuitously explicit fashion to introduce the monster, establish her modus operandi, and alert the audience that nothing is sacred. Then we cut to a horny couple making out in a haunted crime scene because, in America, sex is the root of all evils.
Written by Brad Keene, who either did not watch or did not care for the Japanese original, The Grudge 3 is the first entry in the Ju-On series to consist of a single story rather than a collection of interlocking nightmares. Picking up where The Grudge 2 left off, the plot centers on Max (Gil McKinney) and Lisa (Johanna Braddy), orphans struggling to manage a Chicago apartment complex in order to pay for their sister’s (Jadie Rose Hobson) medical bills. Unfortunately, the tenants keep dying off on account of Kayako and a strangely pubescent Toshio (Tsuchiya Shimba) roaming the halls.
Kayako’s sister, Naoko (Ikehata Emi), eventually moves in, convinced that she can contain the curse by repeating their mother’s mystical ceremony from The Grudge 2. Those who paid attention to the latter film will remember that the ritual turned out a red herring. More to the point, by obfuscating the ghoul’s story with childhood exorcisms and magic potions, The Grudge 3 not only complicates her origin but also robs it of its poetry. The Ju-On movies once pertained to the way grave personal injustices affect the very fabric of society. Now they merely reiterate the same old platitudes about the dangers of toying with the occult. It’s so Catholic, or rather typically Western.
The same can be said of the graphic manner in which the kill scenes are handled in The Grudge 3. No longer content to just scare her prey to death, Kayako now snaps their neck, breaks their bones, pierces their throat, or pulls out random body parts like an eighties slasher monster, and director Toby Wilkins captures every gory detail, making sure blood spurts out whenever the occasion arises. Ironically, all this violence turns out a lot less scary than the image of a long-haired ghost perching herself above your noggin.
I don’t mean to characterise the filmmakers as bloodthirsty maniacs. If anything, the explicit nature of these sequences have more to do with “the rules”: the Hollywood belief that, to engross themselves in a story, viewers need every bit of continuity to be addressed, explained, and consolidated with the rest of the established universe. Ever wondered why Kayako is able to spread her grudge while other murder victims stay dead? The Grudge 3 tells us it’s because her itako mom fed her all the evils of the world. Ever wondered what happens between those shots of her twitchy spirit crawling right up to her victims’ faces and the subsequent scenes in which their bodies are being picked up? Well, now you know.
It’s not all bad, mind you. The characters all come across as sympathetic; every cast member gives a solid performance; and the atmosphere is sufficiently creepy in that B-movie sort of way. I like as well that, in the absence of a big-screen budget, Wilkins and Keene have opted to play up the tragedy inherent to the Ju-On curse. I would’ve hated The Grudge 3, had it been marketed as the official remake of Shimizu’s J-horror classic, but, as the straight-to-video sequel to a fading franchise, it works fine.