by Philip Price
Director: Nicholas Pesce
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir & John Cho
Runtime: 1 hour & 34 minutes
Andrea Riseborough is the kind of actor who, even in a movie like 2020's re-make/sequel(?) of “The Grudge,” goes to the extent of having her character sport certain tattoos that are never brought up, but that she probably knows the backstories of which undoubtedly inform some of the character choices she makes even if those tattoos only make it into a handful of shots in the final film. This is kind of the perfect distillation for the ratio of talent involved versus the quality of the final product for this new take on Takashi Shimizu's “Ju-On” property. Meaning, there is a depth to the writing, directing and acting here (or at least a certain level of credibility) that is lost in the final edit; glimpses of what could have been only showing up in a handful of moments in the final cut.
If you've seen writer/director Nicolas Pesce's 2016 feature debut, “The Eyes of My Mother” then you know the filmmaker is adept at tackling the unsettling and framing it within such an atmosphere that it truly becomes one of those situations where you want desperately to look away, but can't help but to continue to watch for fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, with his latest all one really wants to do is look away and not for fear of missing out on what happens to the film's characters, but because we largely don't care about what's happening to them in the first place. As stated, there are hints at reasons as to why we might be inclined to care about any one of the recognizable faces on screen and the peril they're facing whether it be John Cho and Betty Gilpin's plight as new parents, Frankie Faison and Lin Shaye grappling with mortality or Riseborough and Demián Bichir coming face to face with their fears, but the screenplay spreads these scenarios and characters so thin with such disparate connections to one another that it's difficult to become invested in any of them and easier to simply give up on all of them.
Besides the fact no one was necessarily asking for another installment from this franchise there seems to be no particular motivation even from Pesce's script to try and tap into the core idea of what the curse at the heart of “The Grudge” is really about; a curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of extreme rage. Shimizu's original short films, like this new version, operated as seemingly unconnected vignettes that are pulled together by police investigating the various, strange events, but whatever it was that made those original films launch the franchise “The Grudge” has become today has been lost in translation in this latest iteration.