The curse never dies, and with “The Grudge 2” scaring up a solid $22 million in its opening frame, expect theaters to be visited by still more nonsensical installments in this intermittently scary series. Pic already marks the sixth time director Takashi Shimizu has exploited the same gimmick of a ghostly mother and child who hunt down anyone foolish enough to trespass inside their Tokyo house. This time, however, Sarah Michelle Gellar (who helped drive the 2004 remake to a $39 million opening) appears just long enough to ensure she won’t be back.
Shimizu’s only major concession in repeating Japanese-language “Ju-On: The Grudge” for U.S. auds was allowing his new leading lady to outlive her tormentors. Karen (Gellar) escaped the first pic thinking she had outwitted the creepy mother-daughter team by burning down their house.
Turns out Shimizu merely stopped her story one scene short, and the phantom pair is more than happy to pay an after-hours visit to the hospital where Karen is being restrained.
The scream queen’s Drew Barrymore-style cameo ends on the hospital roof (or rather, splattered on the sidewalk below), but it says something that the filmmakers cared enough about continuity to include her in the sequel.
Once she’s gone, though, auds are left with no clear character to root for — just more victims, including a fresh batch of schoolgirls determined to explore the house. Karen’s corpse lands at the feet of two new characters: her shell-shocked sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn), who looks forlorn through the entire film, and in-over-his-head journalist Eason (“Infernal Affairs'” Edison Chen).
While these two junior detectives pry into the mystery of what killed Karen, a new scenario unfolds halfway around the world. Somehow, the now-contagious spirit has made its way to Chicago, where it inspires evil deeds in an unrelated family. Cooking bacon in the kitchen, Trish (Jennifer Beals) pours hot grease on her husband’s head (Christopher Cousins), then hits him with the frying pan.
The scene makes no sense, but then, the rules that govern the grudge were never clear in the original either. In the original, entering the house was all it took to inspire death-by-sound-effects; this time, anything goes.
Shimizu’s favorite visual trick remains honing the camera in close on a character, then drifting around to reveal an unwelcome visitor reflected in a window or lurking in the corner of the frame — either raccoon-eyed Toshio (Oga Tanaka), pale hands clutching his bone-white knees to his chest, or raspy Kayako (Takako Fuji, who’s played the mother since the very first installment), ankle broken, neck snapped, vengeful eye glaring through wiry black hair.
As unimaginative as it may seem (and predictable as these appearances now are), the device works every time. Story is incidental, as auds merely anticipate the scares. Shimizu and screenwriter Stephen Susco interrupt the frights with ponderous scenes between characters whose expiration dates are due sooner than the milk one unfortunate young lady regurgitates back into its carton — yet another example of an image every bit as unsettling as it is inexplicable.
All this unnecessary plotting exists simply to provide backstory for the undead duo. Aubrey eventually tracks down the dead girl’s mother (Kim Miyori), who warns, “There can be no end to what has started,” which means, of course, that the next ghastly mother and child reunion is only a heartbeat away.
Lensing is gray and nondescript by design, enhancing the stark contrast of the bone-white/jet-black ghouls. Scary sound effects, including the guttural throat rattle spoofed in “Scary Movie 4,” have lost some of their efficacy since the last installment.