The Grudge

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Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Rated 14A.

There's little doubt that the critical and commercial success of The Ring--Gore Verbinski's 2002 Hollywood remake of the hit Japanese horror flick Ringu--had a lot to do with The Grudge getting the Tinseltown treatment. Directed by Takashi Shimizu, it's a remake of his own Japanese blockbuster, Ju-On: The Grudge, and the parallels between it and The Ring are noteworthy. The Ring was about a cursed videotape that brought death to (almost) all who viewed it; The Grudge is about a cursed house that brings death to (almost) all who enter it. Both films feature spooky phone calls and bizarre video images. But the main similarity seems to be the two directors' apparent belief that there's nothing much scarier than a quick close-up of a bone-white face and bulging eye peering out from beneath a messy shock of pitch-black hair. Strangely enough, they're right. But you can't pin a horror flick's success on one image alone.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, aka Buffy the Vampire Slayer, stars as Karen, an exchange student in Japan with grooming issues of her own. Evidently, there are no hairbrushes to be found in all of Tokyo, but that's the least of this would-be social worker's problems once she gets assigned to look after an elderly American woman (Grace Zabriskie, whom Seinfeld fans will recognize as the bitter, booze-loving mother of George Costanza's ill-fated fiancée, Susan). Turns out the old hag is living in a house that's haunted by the spirits of a mother and child who were murdered by their husband/father in a jealous rage three years earlier. Now the ghost kid crawls around the place, freaking people out, and the ghost mom does that scary-face-through-the-hair routine. A number of curious people die while investigating mysterious noises in the attic, and Buffy--I mean, Karen--gets depressed trying to figure out the whole silly mess.

To add to the tedium, the ever-bland Bill Pullman, who exits rather early, returns via flashbacks to mope around and be generally unimpressive--which best describes this movie as a whole. But don't take my word for it. Ask the injured guy sitting four rows up who left in disgust halfway through, nearly wiping out on his crutches in the dark.