The Grudge Blu-ray Review

I remember watching Shimizu Takashi’s Ju-on on DVD in 2004 thinking it was a fairly creepy ghost story that was unconventional in not relying on hack ‘n slash or gore. Its domestic home video release coincided with the American remake, the Grudge, helmed by the same director with production from Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman). I never bothered with the remake since the original was satisfying enough and did not really see the point aside from enticing American audiences (mostly teenagers) who would not bother with a foreign horror film. Now five years later I have been able to watch the Grudge on Sony’s Blu-ray edition and am still wondering if I should have bothered.

2002’s The Ring, based on the Japanese film Ringu, set the stage for a slew of Asian horror remakes that invaded America over the coming years. The Ring and the Grudge both did big enough box office to ensure that any potential properties would be green-lit no matter how skeptical the supposed artistic promise. While I still think The Ring holds enough suspense in comparison to its parent film to justify its existence, remade titles such as Dark Water, Pulse, The Eye and One Missed Call garnered equally poor reviews (something studios can overlook) and worse box office returns (something studios cannot as easily overlook).

I have seen many of the original Asian horror films the domestic remakes play off of finding them to be mostly good creepy flicks that I trust suffer as much as reviews imply in their remade versions as I did not have a hard time avoiding said remakes. This leads us back to the Grudge that even though utilizing the same director and studio crew as the Japanese original and also being set in Japan comes off weaker than its predecessor. For those unfamiliar with the plot, it is straightforward enough telling of persons meeting an untimely demise with their non-corporeal selves holding a fatal “grudge” being enacted against anyone who comes in contact with them.

While there are script changes such as removing a few characters to give more screen time to Sarah Michelle Gellar (of Buffy the Vampire fame) playing the lead who had a much diminished presence in the original, the largest difference is in the overall feel of the film. I stated that the plot is straightforward, but, to be precise, that applies to the Grudge as the narrative was not so transparent in the original. Both films lack in character development (which can be said of many of the modern Asian horror flicks), yet the American version feels the need to make sure, even beyond the non-chronological storytelling employed, which is more annoying than innovative, that the audience understands what is going on. Ju-on works more off building suspense through mood and tension at the expense of necessarily making sense. This creates a deeply nightmarish ambiance which sadly does not get carried over into the remake as much as needed.

While there are definitely genuinely scary moments, for every point where you will find yourself jumping there is another where you are bored by the contrived plot mechanisms or, worse even, wanting to laugh at the cheesy presentation of the ghosts. Since it has been a number of years since I viewed Ju-on, I wonder if the onslaught of so many Asian horror remakes has watered down the effectiveness of this incarnation of the genre making what was once novel seem commonplace enough that its flaws overshadow its strengths. Whatever the case may be, the Grudge has just enough going for it to recommend a rental for horror fans, though I would suggest going back to the original instead. Maybe Ju-on will make its way to Blu-ray in the near future, and I can give it a viewing to see how it holds up in comparison over the years.

The Blu-ray edition presents the film in 1080p resolution with an AVC encode preserving the theatrical framing of 1.85:1. While the transfer is not horrible, it comes off rather dated for a film that is only five years old. The image is lacking in dimensionality and appears flat with rare but noticeable print damage in the form of white specks. Detail is decent in close-ups but drops off noticeably in mid to long range shots delivering an overall soft presentation.

I assume the color palette was intentionally murky which results in the somewhat desaturated look with middle of the road contrast providing decent black resolution but nothing astonishingly deep nor whites that have much brilliance. To its benefit, there is no digital artifacting or overly obvious use of Digital Noise Reduction or Edge Enhancement. This is not a distractingly bad image and services the film well enough but nothing you will pull out to convince friends to upgrade to Blu-ray.

The lossless audio supports the film a bit better than the video but is still nothing to overly praise. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD 24 bit/48 khz surround track does not particularly deliver on the surround experience, which is disappointing for a horror film, but presents dialog crisp and clear. The rears are mostly underutilized though the front channels and subwoofer do support the creepy aspects of the movie with many discrete effects and precise directional audio that compliment the unnerving ambiance.

Additional audio is provided as French 5.1 TrueHD and subtitles in English(SDH) and French.

Sony’s Blu-ray release of the Grudge offers both the PG-13 and Unrated versions. The Unrated restores several scenes of gore that really do not work in the film’s favor (as the absence of this is what made the original work better) and a few extra moments of explanation that also could have been left out. All the extras from the previous DVD special edition are carried over in standard definition. While there are a generous number of supplements, this is a case of quantity over quality as most are barely worth sitting through once and have no rewatch value. The disc is BD-Live enabled but as of this writing there is no content available for the movie.

Audio Commentaries: Two commentaries are provided, neither of which dramatically enhanced my enjoyment of the movie.

The first is available on the theatrical cut involving producer Sam Raimi, the screenwriter and much of the cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr and Ted Raimi. This is an example of the kind of breezy tracks that I am not a huge fan of where you have too many participants fighting for prominence and no real in-depth information provided about the movie. If you are a fan, there are some entertaining anecdotes about filming on location and the like plus the participants seem to have a good time.

The second is available on the unrated version with the director and the actress who plays the main ghost. This track is in Japanese and subtitled in English. It is a bit more to my liking delving into some contextual aspects of the production but still comes off overly dry (reading subtitles may have something to do with that). There are moments where the director points out interesting subtleties that you may have overlooked balanced against fairly banal expositions that seem to just narrate the obvious story being told.

A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge (48:06) – This is easily the best extra included and gives much better background to the film than either commentary. It is broken into five sections that can be played together or separately. Almost every main actor (both American and Japanese) in addition to Sam Raimi and the screenwriter give input on a thorough set of topics.

Subjects covered include how the American version translates the original, filming in Japan, the myth behind the movie, set design, the experience of working with the director and the particulars of the Japanese film crew. This feature combines the best of each commentary track with a good background on the film and some lighthearted context dealing with the director’s sense of humor and scenes of the actor’s goofing off on set. If you have to watch only one extra on this disc, this is it.

Deleted Scenes (33:55) – 15 deleted scenes are presented with optional commentary in Japanese with English subtitles. You definitely want to watch these with the commentary which seems to be the same with the director from the unrated version. The scenes are interesting to give a bit more context, but it is easy to see why they were cut which the commentary also makes explicit.

Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu (3:13) – Hand drawn storyboards are displayed with related audio from the movie including minimal dialog.

Production Designer’s Notebook: Sketches of Iwao Saito (2:26) – Production sketches accompanied with the musical score from the film.

Under The Skin (12:26) – Joseph LeDoux Phd., author of several books on relations between biochemistry and emotion and professor of neural science and psychology, gives a brief overview of the psychological and neurological reaction of fear. This is a bit dry but is interesting in relation to how audiences react to horror movies.

The “Grudge” House: An Insider’s Tour (3:58) – Hand held camera footage of the house where the movie was shot mixed with real shots from the film.

Video Diaries (22:33) – Sarah Michelle Gellar and KaDee Strickland each contribute hand held footage of their time in Japan. Gellar is actually behind the camera on her effort while interviewing members of the crew. Strickland is filmed while touring through Tokyo telling of her experiences in foreign culture.

Ju-on Short Films (6:21) – Two amateur films, 4444444444 and In A Corner, inspired by the movie. These are not particularly scary and have poor video quality with extensive pixelation.

The Grudge delivers a substandard remake of a Japanese film that was at the forefront of the recent fascination with the Asian horror genre. I have a hard time imagining you need to spend much time with this flick. Hardcore horror fans should give it a rental or, as previously suggested, check out Ju-on instead. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation provides adequate, if unimpressive, video with sufficient audio and all the extras from the previous DVD (which are fairly underwhelming in total). While not an amazing Blu-ray presentation, this is probably as good as this film will get in high-def.

– Robert Searle

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