MAY 12, 2009
You know, I have a bone to pick with screenwriter Brad Keene. When I sit down to watch a Grudge movie, I expect to be completely baffled at all times, have no idea how one scene connects to the next, and generally feel sort of stupid. So why did he write a relatively coherent script for The Grudge 3? Why is it that I understood who the characters were and how they related to one another? How is this a Grudge movie?!?!?!
In all seriousness, Grudge 3 is indeed the most coherent of the entire series thus far (including the Japanese originals, and the original Japanese originals). It is structured in order instead of jumping around time (occasional brief flashbacks to the original murders of Toshio and Kayako are in black and white, so they are easy to distinguish), and instead of jumping around the globe like the last movie, here we are pretty much confined to the apartment building in Chicago where a third of that movie took place (the only returning cast member is Matthew Knight, the kid from Grudge 2 who I thought died at the end but I guess not).
The problem is, the story itself has long since worn thin. Slasher movies and Godzilla sequels can get away with doing the same thing over and over, because they are based more on the spectacle than the story (“Come see Godzilla vs. Whatevra! They smash entirely different buildings!!!”). That is not the case with ghost/haunting type movies (especially this series, which is almost entirely story based and keeps killing everyone off, so they can’t even focus on a memorable protagonist for an audience to latch on to), and while you can get away with maybe one sequel, two is really pushing it.
Oddly, this was proven without a doubt with Poltergeist III, a film that Grudge 3 has a surprising lot in common with. Both films are set in a Chicago apartment building instead of the suburban homes featured in the previous films, both have almost entirely new casts, and both feature a young couple sneaking around the building with a set of keys that the female of the pair lifted from a family member.
And much like Poltergeist III was the first one of the series to actually kill characters, Grudge 3 is the first one with explicit gore and even a splash of nudity, as it has an R rating instead of the PG-13 originals. It doesn’t add a hell of a lot to the proceedings, but there is some novelty in seeing these familiar ghosts (well, sort of familiar - the roles of Toshio and Kayako have obviously been recast) tearing people’s throats out and shit.
Now, for what it’s worth, it’s actually a pretty good movie on its own accord, and had I never seen any of the others, I’d probably be pretty happy with it. Toby Wilkins (who previously helmed the solid Splinter) manages to wring a few scares out of the material. There’s a scene where Kayako kills an artist in her apartment that had some pretty creepy visuals, and there is even a new ghost to contend with, who has a severed spinal cord and moves accordingly (i.e. not very well). Unfortunately she is only introduced in the film’s final ten minutes - had the plot been structured in a way that she appeared sooner, they could have had a more memorable final film.
Another thing I liked is Toshio’s newfound appreciation of children’s toys. A Mr. Potato Head is actually used for a scare scene, and he also moves a little girl’s doll house occupants around. Why he has taken to simple trickery, I don’t know, but it’s amusing to see a goddamn Mr. Potato Head sitting on the floor accompanied by ominous music.
One thing I most certainly did NOT like was the severe lack of Shawnee Smith. I love Ms. Smith dearly, and will watch her in anything (for example, I watched Scream Queens). But her role is confined to about three scenes of 4-5 minutes each, and she’s only there to provide some exposition to our heroine. Making matters worse, Smith essentially passes the torch to our heroine (Lisa, played by Johanna E. Braddy), who is a wholly unlikable character. She continually shirks her responsibilities to fuck her boyfriend inside vacant apartments (I hope they are cleaning up before showing them to prospective tenants), and could seemingly care less about her sickly little sister.
Her worst offense, however, is when Kayako’s sister comes along and tells her that she needs her help to stop the curse. Now, Lisa’s older brother is the landlord, and thus having a full building of tenants is important to their financial and living security. But it seems every tenant is either dead or moving away because of all of the deaths. So, considering all that, you’d think she’d be all gung ho about putting an end to it, for her family’s sake. But no, she instantly refuses to help get rid of the curse, without even listening to what she would have to do in order to help. For all we know, Kayako’s sister just wanted her to say a prayer. Bitch.
The DVD doesn’t have a lot of extras, but they are at least pretty good for the most part. You can certainly skip the deleted scenes; only one of them is of minor interest. But the two featurettes are interesting, one deals with filming in Bulgaria (the Chicago apartment set was completely rebuilt, and they did a hell of a job fooling me), and the other discusses the new ghost. They both have a lot of spoilers (the ghost one has a clip of the film’s final shot!), so don’t watch them until after you’ve seen the movie. I only say this because of all the commentaries I listen to where they say “I hope you’re not watching this first, because we’re going to spoil things!”, so there must be a number of morons who save the film for last when going through a DVD.
So I dunno, your call. If you love love love the other films in the series, you will probably enjoy this one as well, as it has its own identity while still fitting nicely into the mythos. If you’re like me and never cared much for any of them, this one probably won’t change your tune, but you will hopefully appreciate that they have finally figured out how to tell the story coherently. And with gore. It’s a shame that the unparalleled box office failure of The Grudge 2 (the only film to open at more than 20 million and not even make 40 million total) resulted in this once powerhouse franchise already going direct to DVD, but it’s even more of a shame when you consider that it does so with a technically superior entry.
What say you?