By Brett Mullins
Written and Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Japanese mythology tells that if someone dies while holding a grudge against another, their spirit remains as a stain on the area where they died, and a curse is born. One becomes cursed if they enter a cursed area or come in contact with another cursed individual. More often than not (as evident through the film), the curse results in a period of torment and eventual death.
Ju-on: The Grudge is a supernatural thriller that employs this premise to forge an atmosphere that is both disturbing and enthralling. Rika, a volunteer social worker in Japan, is assigned a new family and finds her catatonic patient alone and malnourished. Upon inspecting the house, she becomes haunted by two entities: a small child and a woman. As more characters become involved in the story, the curse spreads affecting (and ending) the lives of countless others.
Surprisingly enough, the element that makes Ju-on such a great horror film is not the story, which is rather simple, yet confusing at the same time. The film is told in a non-linear manner, which can lead the audience, especially Western audiences, to confusing some of the characters. The conclusion isn’t grand either and is quite ambiguous as to what will occur in the future.
The element that will make the audience remember this film long after its conclusion is the Yurei, the Japanese mythological equivalent to ghosts. By themselves, these characters are quite disturbing; however, when combined with careful cinematography and an excellent score, they form an atmosphere which puts the audience on edge and greatly amplifies how frightening the scenes are. One particular scene features a Yurei crawling down the stairs, twisting and cracking her bones, as her victim cowers in the corner. Alone, this scene could possibly be humorous to some audiences; however, the preestablished atmosphere gives life to the character’s dread and coming fate.
Ju-on: The Grudge relies more on traditional elements of filmmaking rather than CG and other special effects. As a result of this reliance, there are a few scenes of awkward acting, where the audience may not fully understand the situation, especially if they are reading translated subtitles.
This being considered, Ju-on: The Grudge is a relentless spookfest with iconic imagery that will stay with the audience for some time.
Editor's Note: This film was selected as the Film of the Week in August 2011.