I saw The Grudge (the original Japanese one, not the one with Buffy The Vampire Slayer!) for £3 the other day, so I snapped it up. According to the sleeve cover, Ju-On: The Grudge “scares the socks off The Ring” (according to the cover sleeve). In plain English, it didn’t “scare the socks off Ringu.” That’s a tough challenge to achieve (Ringu left an ex-girlfriend of mine in tears due to the sheer terror of the experience! And it left me unable to watch the TV for a few days). But it was an admirable attempt to do something a little different from your typical J-horror flick (if, indeed, there is such a thing).
It was rather creepy and disturbing at points, especially whenever the little boy, Toshio, was involved. He was an essentially freakish character, lurking in the shadows, waiting to scare the characters and the audience. Unfortunately, the appearances of the ‘black mass’ were too similar to the girl out of Ringu. This was especially apparent at the end, where a woman in a body bag crawls down the stairs, complete with all those disgusting noises out of Ringu (the sounds of bones creaking/breaking, etc). It brought me out of the film to reflect on the elementary horror of Ringu, rather than think about the horror on the screen.
However, what was admirable was the attempt to singularise ‘horror’ by showing a non-linear story. In this, ‘horror’ is the linear story line, and nothing else. The stories of the victims of ‘Ju-On’ are told in no particular order, but an order that gradually reveals more about the ‘horror’ itself. For example, Izumi’s storyline takes place several years after some of the others. The only causal links between the stories are the characters themselves. Someone who flashed up for a second or two in one story appears in the next story, for example. So, if you ignore the non-linear aspect of the story, then it resembles the usual J-horror film; you are gradually told more and more about the ‘horror’ at large, until the ‘big reveal’ at the end.
I assume it would be a lot easier to tell the story in a linear fashion, so the director, Takashi Shimizu, is obviously attempting to leave the distractions of the usual horror film by the wayside. Although the viewer is trying to decipher the timeline in their mind, the constant change of time (backwards and forwards) leave the mind susceptible to the true ‘horror’ behind the plot. One of the major problems with horror films is the focus on a single character who the audience knows will survive and defeat the mighty ‘horror.’ This sometimes places the ‘horror’ as the secondary effect in the film, with the main focus on the great survivor and her (for it is usually a girl who’s the main focus in horror films) story.
In Ju-On, there is no such person; the focus of each story is the ‘horror’ rather than one person’s survival. ‘Ju-On’ is the surviving character here, as indestructible as Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street. Shimizu may not have been entirely successful in his endeavour, but it’s a formula that should be used more often in the horror movie. It’s a shame that Shimizu allows Ringu to cloud the horror he’s trying to convey. But he’s made a film that chills and scares just as easily as Ringu. You can forgive its flaws.
VERDICT: 7/10. While at times in relies too much on echoing Ringu, when Ju-On: The Grudge treads its own linear path it promotes ‘true’ horror as the main character. A chilling treat!