Some people have turned watching rubbish movies into something close to an art form. For the rest of us, it’s a case of avoiding them like the plague, catching something that’s virtually critic-proof (e.g. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, which I didn’t think was at all bad, though I accept a deuce of fandom on my part), or hoping that it won’t turn out to be as cruddy as it clearly is (like Goal II, which somehow managed to make the first instalment look like a Bergmanesque work of art - see my review for more). The Grudge II falls into the latter camp. It follows a movie that whilst commercially successful, was critically unloved. The derivations pile up when we see that the two American releases are remakes of Japanese originals, which in turn rip off the Ringu trilogy at every turn. Is there any hope for it?
I admit that, against considerable odds, The Grudge turned out to be the scariest horror film I’ve seen whilst an adult. Probably, this was as much to do with my state of mind as the film itself, the fact I was alone in the house, and for hours afterwards thought I could hear all manner of noises around me. In the end, I could only watch it again after a few drinks, when of course I was ready to take on any number of lank-haired ghosts.
It was after this that I thought the sequel might turn out to have just as great a fear-inducing effect. Big mistake. TGII fails on almost every level. It tries to up the ante by increasing the number of characters bothered and finally bumped off by malevolent spirits Kayako and Toshio, and instead becomes wearily predictable long before the 102 minutes are up. Things start promisingly when the pre-credits Columbia lady transforms into Kayako (call me a sucker, but I love the clever way certain films do this, though this one isn’t as good as the superb way Event Horizon arses around with the Paramount mountain), but it’s all downhill from there. The plot, and I use that word loosely, is as follows:
There’s this haunted house in Japan. Whenever someone enters it, they’ll be scared once or twice by a couple of ghosts, before they’re offed in some improbable way. And, er, that’s it.
No really, that’s it. Virtually any semblance of a cohesive story is sucked out of the proceedings in favour of jump scene after jump scene. At first, these are reasonably well done - the spooks can strike at any time, night or day, but usually when the victim is alone. The scene where a girl is in a telephone booth, only to find black hair enveloping her, is fairly unexpected, though not all that scary. After around the fifth death, however, it just loses any edge it once had. Anyone who goes into the house has their card marked, and at no point does a character figure out how to stop the ghosts. They just keep on coming, finding new and bizarre ways to catch up with their prey, until they clearly get fed up with striking at people who are daft enough to go into the house and attack just about anyone within easy haunting distance.
Best death? There’s a wonderfully daft bit where some guy who has taken pictures of the house is getting them developed in his own darkroom. As the photo materialises, Kayako emerges at its centre, until she starts to leave the print and rise out of the developing tray. For one, pre-killing moment, the photographer and ghost just look at each other, and it’s almost possible to believe the two actors are thinking the same thing - what the fuck are we doing here?
Even Sarah Michelle Gellar, who at least can play someone who’s scared better than most, has little more than a cameo role this time around. It’s as though Buffy knew she was appearing in a real stinker, and wanted to get her chips before losing any sense of lingering credibility. Instead, poor Amber Tamblyn bears the brunt of what happens next, reprising the Gellar role to the degree that she virtually relives her fictional sister’s experiences during the first film. There’s a secondary strand involving three students who are dumb enough to brave the house. Guess what happens to them. Finally, back in America, a family rather implausibly falls foul of the ghosts, through no fault of their own.
By the end of The Grudge, I was cheering for the characters, hoping they would unlock the spirits’ secret and save their own lives. As this one lurched towards its predictable conclusion, I found myself not caring. I wasn’t bothered about any of the people involved, and principally hoped Kayako and Toshio would do away with them that bit quicker to spare me any more of this interminable bobbins.
The Grudge II is out on Region 2 DVD from 7 May, if you’re even vaguely interested.