The surprise success of Japanese low-budget horror hit “The Grudge,” itself a remake of a direct-to-video package, has already spawned a theatrical sequel, “The Grudge 2.” But a bigger budget and plenty of buzz doesn’t necessarily translate into better chills. Thanks to Sam Raimi’s plans to produce a U.S. remake of the original, title recognition is strong and rights have been scooped up around the globe, so “Grudge 2” should reap reasonable returns in theaters. Despite a second-rate fright factor, film will also feed off of video and ancillary for years to come.
Taking the haunted house from the first pic, repeat helmer Takashi Shimizu spreads the curse — the “grudge” of the title — to the cast and crew of a TV show filming in the same locale. A woman was brutally murdered and her son disappeared from the average-looking home. Everyone connected with the house since then has met a terrible fate, so the location is ripe for exploitation by a popular TV variety show called “Heart-Stopping Backgrounds.”
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Enter beautiful actress Kyoko Harase (newcomer Noriko Sakai) who’s agreed to appear as a special guest. Kyoko, secretly pregnant, is tired of her “horror queen” tag and is considering changing her career once the show is finished.
When filming begins inside the house, the crew immediately gets the creeps and, as they depart from the shoot, strange things begin to happen to each of them. After Kyoko sees the ghost of a small boy grasping the steering wheel of her b.f.’s car, the vehicle crashes, inducing Kyoko to have a miscarriage and leaving her fiance in a coma.
Tomoka Miura (Chiharu Niyama), the presenter of the show, hears a strange thumping noise in her apartment, and has nasty visions. Megumi, the program’s stylist, notices a bizarre stain on her carpet and sees supernatural apparitions that manifest themselves while she is brushing some spare wigs. When schoolgirl Chiharu (Yui Ichikawa) agrees to be an extra, she begins to see things that aren’t apparent to the others yet.
Then Kyoko discovers she’s still pregnant, but she’s not sure what exactly is growing inside her.
As in the original “Grudge,” the decision to divide the film into chapters, following each character before, during, and after the shoot, doesn’t make for easy following. Viewer’s inability to work out the sequence of events confuses the narration.
Though producer Taka Ichise was also responsible for “The Ring” series and “Dark Water,” pic fails to climb the fright heights set by director Hideo Nakata and other masters of the Japanese psycho-thriller genre.
Shimizu attempts to keep tension at a constant high, and the overstated pitch works against the occasional moments of fright. Choice of scary objects is also strange: A wig just isn’t that menacing, even when it’s growing.
Pic opens by explaining that the grudge is “a perpetuating curse passed on from one aggrieved spirit to another.” The truly frightening thought is how long this franchise, like the curse itself, can continue to be reborn.