You know, here at No But Listen, we’re suckers for a good bad horror movie. In fact, I would say there’s no other genres that we love in all its forms, even the ugliest, messiest of the lot – I would never go and see a bad comedy film, but a bad horror film? Mammy, tie me down.
Anyway. The sequel to Ju-On, one of the best horror films ever made, has been sold as one of those bad films. A catastrophic score on Rotten Tomatoes, a critical mauling, a wasted director and an overtalented cast; the perfect storm, as far as we’re concerned, to enjoy some great bad horror.
And dammit, we were let down! Because this version really isn’t that bad at all. I’m enormously protective over the excellent OG Grudge movies, and I was prepared for an ugly, point-missing remake that skipped out on the mind-crunching tension and dove into the domestic abuse and horrible violence to earn some shock value. But this is far more than that – and I think it’s been getting an unfair critical run of it.
Director Nicholas Pearce (the man behind the excellent Eyes of my Mother and the adaptation of one of my favourite novels, Piercing) approaches this sequel with an obvious reverence of the source material, but this is a movie that makes a concentrated effort to explore more than just the same territory as the original movies. The movie has that deceptively simple premise – a house that haunts to death anyone unlucky enough to set foot inside of it – and that leaves a lot of room to play. It makes for an exceptionally effective ghost story set-up, but Pearce seems more interested in the people who fall victim to the house instead of just what it can do.
Overlapping stories – from a recently-widowed mother and police officer trying to uncover the history of the house, to a couple grappling with the loss of what they had envisioned as their perfect family, to a man trying to navigate his wife’s terminal illness – use the house as a centrepiece through which to look at grief and loss, at the vulnerabilities that we open up to the world and how the world might respond to that. Excellent performances from great character actors (Andrea Riseborough, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, John Cho, Lin Shaye) give these stories weight, and Pearce approaches the subject matter with a mournful colour palette that veils the entire movie with a haze of grief.
The scares are not much that you haven’t seen before, but the grim inevitability of the horrors that befall our characters make for some really unsettling sequences – the gore is briefly-used and impactful, and the movie seems more focused on those long, slow, silent spook sequences that the jump-scares. Mainstream horror has become pretty predictable now, so I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this is some terrifying game-changer when it comes to scares, but the story is interesting enough and the themes well-thought-out enough that I don’t actually mind too much.
The Grudge, really, was a huge let-down. Because I expected a great bad horror movie, and, instead, got a really solid haunted house story about grief in its place. This version isn’t going to send shockwaves through the genre, but it deserves more than the critical write-off it’s currently getting. If, like me, you love the original Ju-On movies, this is far from a waste of your time – and far from the cynical cash-in that it might initially seem to be.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Empire)