Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Ju-On The Grudge (2002)
When is comes to paranormal and supernatural flicks, and among those foreign in origin, there are few selections better than Ju-On: The Grudge. This movie became a kind of renaissance for me. I’ve dabbled in foreign horror films before, such as the likes of Amando de Ossorio, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci to name a few. Mostly all European horror. Those were the classics though. End of the world zombish supernatural and entertainingly dubbed in English. And then came my experience with the Ju-on series. It was around 2004. I was in the Army and on my second deployment to Iraq. And to help pass the time when we weren’t out on mission, a bunch of us would buy bootleg DVDs from a local Hajji on base. One of us (I can’t recall who) bought a DVD with the entire series of Ju-On movies on it. One day we watch them all. And let me tell you, even on that tiny screen, huddled together with a bunch of badass fellow soldiers, I still got freaked out. I was instantly sold on Japanese horror.
Today’s dissection, Ju-On: The Grudge, is the film most people refer to when they’re talking about Ju-On movies. There are others. There’s the Curse, Ju-on 2, White Ghost, Black Ghost, The Final Curse, etc. The entire series is insane. I remember telling my buddy how crazy it was that there was no one left alive. I had never seen a ghost story quite like this before. In which any encounter with the tormented spirits spells out certain doom. Sometimes immediately, and sometimes years from first contact. As if any contact whatsoever is akin to an infection. Walking into the house, coming into contact with the ghosts, taints and/or marks the person. And even if said victim finds the courage to get away or is rescued, the ghosts find them–wherever they may be. I’m not sure about you, but I find that absolutely terrifying. The inevitably of death.
Ju-On: The Grudge opens up in black and white with a found footage vibe. It almost looks like a low budget indie horror film. And that’s because it is. The picture clears up and the shaky steady cam focuses to a more traditionally shot picture, but it retains that level of realness. Say what you will about the found footage craze, but there’s a reason why they became so popular. Found footage allows the audience to feel as if what they’re watching is real. Giving viewers a sense that this could be really happening and toss in the supernatural–its going to increase the intensity of the story. And intensity is something Ju-On: The Grudge lacks nothing. Its similar in intensity to Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses. And the reason why both of those movies give audiences a sense of dread is because they feel real. The same could be said of the late great Tobe Hopper’s first major landmark movie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. These movies have a strong sense of grounding. It’s like we’re there with the characters. And then you add in violence, the supernatural, the terror–you’ll get goosebumps. Your heart will beat faster. You want it to be over and not all at the same time. That is an amazing feat not to mention the entire point of watching a horror film.
As the movie progresses, we find that its sold in chapters, which follows the characters–the poor souls who come in contact with the house, almost like a collection of short stories set within the same universe. For Ju-On, said universe is the house. Or maybe more to the heart, the restless tormented spirits that dwell in the house. Not to break away on another tangent, but what’s also fun about this movie is that this house isn’t some Gothic cobwebby haunted mansion like in most American and European ghost stories. Instead the house is completely mundane. This is the banality of suburbia. It looks like a typical dwelling place in the neighborhoods of Japan. But inside…
The first story is about a social worker volunteer who is conned by her boss to check in on an elderly woman of a family who happens to reside at this haunted house in question. She is his only option as everyone else seems to have “disappeared.” She arrives and notices right away that something is amiss with this house. The musical score helps convey this message throughout the entire movie. Simple yet effective. Inside the place is a mess. There’s trash everywhere and the poor old woman is practically catatonic. While cleaning, the social worker discovers a crumbled up photograph of a man, woman, and small boy. The woman’s image is completely defaced. And the boy’s is slashed. Something isn’t right here. And as she begins cleaning upstairs, she discovers a small boy hiding in the closet. He’s got bloody knees and cuts on his face and he isn’t the greatest conversationalist. He doesn’t say much at all except for his name, Toshio. Soon after, another ghost makes an appearance. With a hard to describe in words sound (similar to a frog croaking or someone who had been choked to death trying to talk, hint hint) this woman enters the scene and is utterly terrifying.
The next “story” tells us what happened to the elderly woman’s family. Again, similar to the first, the housewife discovers the boy, and then the ghost woman comes after her. You’re probably sensing a pattern here. First, these “chapters” are not long. Its not a drawn out buildup. It starts and builds quickly keeping the pace of the entire movie on a sharp tempo cadence. Second, the ghost of the boy is the first to appear to the victims. The woman, or mom, is the second. And there’s black cat tossed in the mix. Adding to the already creepy audio effects. But there is also another ghost…and we get a sense of that one in the story of this family. When the husband returns from work and discovers the house a mess and his wife catatonic the spirits of the house quickly descend upon him. The scene cuts and we see the husband’s sister coming into the house. They were going to have dinner together. The husband rushes her away. He’s muttering to himself. Paranoid talk. About his wife cheating on him. And how the boy isn’t his real son. Note: The family who currently resides in this house in this section of the story have no children. Puzzling still, as the husband pushes his sister out into the rain and locks the door, his manner becomes aggressive. He’s smirking with a sort of murderous gleam.
There are several more stories. One following the sister of the family above. Some following detectives investigating the strange happenings of the house. Another on a retired detective who had investigated the house before. And one on the daughter of said retired detective and a group of her friends who decided to drink some sake and get killed by ghosts (spoilers). And then it swings back around to the volunteer social worker cultivating to one very creepy end of which I will not spoil here. There’s no huge mystery, but there is a discovery, which is best experienced than told.
Ju-On: The Grudge launched a new renaissance of Japanese horror that included Ringu (1998), Pulse (2001), Dark Water (2002), One Missed Call (2003), Shutter (2004), and The Eye (2002). And per tradition were followed by (mostly) horrid American remakes. I would imagine most have only seen the remake versions of these movies. And while some aren’t too shabby, I would recommend checking out the originals. And if you’re going to start, start with Ju-On: The Grudge (2002). Trust me, this film will get under your skin.
My rating: 5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom Army veteran who loves scary movies, BBQ, and coffee. Ever since reading Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” he has inspired to write deeply disturbing things that relate to war and horror, from the paranormal to his gory zombie infested PLANET of the DEAD series, to even his recent dabbling of vampiric flirtation in The Last Hellfighter readers can expect to find complex characters, rich historical settings, and mind-altering horror. Thomas is also the senior editor at Machine Mean, a horror movie and book review site that hosts contributors in the horror and science fiction genre. You can follow Thomas and get yourself a FREE eBook copy of FEAST by joining his newsletter. Sign up by vising his website at www.ThomasSFlowers.com.