I tried to avoid reviews of The Grudge (2020) going in. I’d seen quite a few negative social media reactions and heard from a few friends and fellow critics that it wasn’t good. But I didn’t want to taint my perspective and wanted to ensure that I went in giving it a fair chance. I can honestly say that I did that. But wow, what an awful film it turned out to be. Our News Editor Joey Keogh called the flick garbage in an opinion piece (that I just circled back to read for the first time) and she nailed it with that assessment.
This reboot-sequel hybrid follows detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough who played the titular character in Mandy) as she looks into a series of seemingly related incidents connected to a house with a persistent death curse. While the skeletal outline has potential, the biggest problem with writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s screenplay is that it bounces around enough to give the audience whiplash. I’m not against a nonlinear narrative but the problem I have with its implementation here is that we spend chunks of time in no less than three different timelines (all related to a death grudge brought back to the states from a house in Japan) and just as one of the stories begins to look promising, the film jumps forward, backward, or otherwise into a different piece of the puzzle.
The concept of a narrative that takes place in separate timelines sounds like an interesting idea on paper but the execution kept me from ever feeling a genuine connection with any of the core cast members. The film boasts a highly capable and undeniably talented cast: I think of Lin Shaye (who plays an elderly dementia patient) as the godmother of modern horror and I have yet to see Demián Bichir (who plays detective Muldoon’s partner) in anything where he didn’t fully commit to the character. Moreover, Andrea Riseborough and John Cho (who features as a real estate agent) also turn in solid performances. But their collective talents aren’t enough to save this film from itself. While the cast is giving their all, writer/director Nicolas Pesce isn’t able to deliver a cohesive finished product.
Another major shortcoming of the screenplay is that it repeatedly uses tired horror movie tropes that viewers have seen time and again. One prime example of this is the repeated use of the sequence where a character sees a ghost and realizes that the other person in the room didn’t see said ghost. This occurs more times than I can (or care to) count. The film utilizes that gimmick so frequently that it made me question who the audience for The Grudge (2020) is? Perhaps people who have never seen a horror movie before?
In addition to a well-meaning but ultimately poorly-executed screenplay, the film also suffers from a lack of legitimate scares. Most of the spooky sequences are utterly predictable and easy to see coming long before they transpire. Worse yet, some of them are taken straight from earlier installments in the franchise (the shower hand being a classic example of that). This makes the film a bore to sit through for the majority of its runtime. In one of the bonus featurettes, director Nicolas Pesce walks us through all of the flick’s ‘Easter Eggs’ but when seeing them edited together, it almost feels like this is just a half-ass amalgamation of every existing Grudge film, comic, and video game.
Another key gripe I had with The Grudge (2020) is The Newton Brothers’ score. It is shockingly ineffective and derivative of much better films. The majority of the jump scares are announced with the sound of a single, echoing, note played on a piano. One gets the impression it was supposed to sound ominous and menacing but if anything, the score detracts from what little the film has going for it.
The Grudge Blu-ray release comes with a series of deleted scenes (more than 30-minutes of excised footage by my count) and a few featurettes, some of which are more interesting than the flick itself. The viewer gets a chance to hear the actors passionately discuss their characters, which was nice to see. But, I wish they had been given more to work with.
Also See: Five Bad Sequels That Were Almost Good
I would suggest steering clear of this latest installment in the Grudge franchise. But if you feel the need to have a look for yourself, The Grudge (2020) is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and DigitalHD.
WICKED RATING: 2.5/10
Director(s): Nicolas Pesce
Writer(s): Nicolas Pesce
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, Lin Shaye, Betty Gilpin, and John Cho
Release: 3/24/20 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: Screen Gems