I can’t lie, my heart sank when Clarky revealed his choice this week. Firstly, I associated it with the Hollywood remake so my expectations were immediately low once I started thinking about Buffy. Secondly, it was a return to Asian Horror, which has been a bit hit or miss at Horror Club... mostly miss. While Asian Horror has undoubtedly provided some extremely scary and creepy moments, it has produced far more disgusting and nonsensical ones. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve watched a South Korean or Japanese horror and found it impossible to follow, or just had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to stop watching because it went too far with violence or torture. So I had a strong feeling of trepidation when Clarky brought it to the table.
Was this another example of Asian Horror missing the mark? No. But...
First of all (and most importantly) I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. It’s a well made film with plenty going for it. The film really excels at creating an unsettling environment for the viewer. Through his use of close-ups and tight angled shots, the director does a wonderful job of unnerving his audience. It also has some really memorable characters in it... not least Toshio, one of the creepiest child characters I’ve seen in any movie. Despite being on screen for a not inconsiderable amount of time, his power to creep the audience is never diminished; a rare quality for a bogeyman(boy).
It’s definitely creepy but is it scary? This is more difficult to answer because of an external factor when we watched the movie – Fin’s wife, Kirsty. It turns out that a movie is much scarier when someone else in the room unexpectedly screams (very) loudly. So I definitely jumped a lot in this movie, I’m just not sure if I would have otherwise. But there are certainly some scary set pieces, and moments of well-constructed tension. The film is particularly effective in the scenes at the main house, the layout of which lends itself very well to creating those moments where you have to cover your eyes with a cushion.
I mentioned that there were usually two elements in Asian horror that put me off: sadistic violence and nonsensical plots. The Grudge is pretty restrained in the gore department, and the little that is there feels absolutely necessary to the story. However, the story itself is very difficult to follow. It’s not so much nonsensical, it’s just quite difficult to understand. The events of the film seem to jump around in time, and it becomes very hard to get a handle on what’s happening in a few key scenes. I’m sure that I could read up about the film, watch it again and it would make perfect sense on second viewing. However, once it was over I didn’t really have the inclination to understand what had happened. I got the gist of the events and that was enough for me. I enjoyed it, but I was never so absorbed that I wanted to fully understand all that took place.
I think my lack of investment was due to the fact that there is no ‘hero’ or main character. We follow several people, in no particular order, with none of them seemingly more important than the others. We see their part in the story and little else, with no screen time “wasted” on character development. I think the lack of a protagonist may be the film’s most glaring weakness, and why the film feels a bit disjointed.
It’s certainly far superior to some of the other Asian Horror that we’ve watched at Horror Club, although it isn’t in the class of A Tale of Two Sisters. I enjoyed watching it: the film moves along well, has plenty of ‘shudder’ moments, and a few jumps (made all the more effective if watched with Kirsty). But it was difficult to really understand all the strands of the story, and I found myself not really caring enough to uncover the truth.
A rock solid (if perhaps a little forgettable) addition to Horror Club... but my Asian Horror prejudice remains.