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THE GRUDGE: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER (2020)

Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Written by Nicolas Pesce (story/screenplay), Jeff Buhler (story), Takashi Shimzu (original screenplay)
Starring John Cho, Tara Westwood, David Lawrence Brown, Zoe Fish, Andrea Riseborough, John J. Hansen, Demián Bichir, Joel Marsh Garland, Bradley Sawatzky, Lin Shaye, Betty Gilpin, Stephanie Sy, Steven Ratzlaff, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, Nancy Sorel, Ray Strachan, Adam Brooks, & Junko Bailey as Kayako!
Find out more about this film here

Sometimes good directors have a bad day. That’s what I want to say is the excuse EYES OF MY MOTHER director Nicolas Pesce has for making THE GRUDGE–subtitled THE UNTOLD CHAPTER for home release. While Pesce exhibited amazing prowess behind the camera with his first feature film, all of that talent seems to be lost on the editing room floor with this installment, the latest in the never-ending saga of Kayako and the Grudge.

One of the most problematic elements of THE GRUDGE 2020 is that it takes place in 2004, 2005, and 2006, skipping back and forth throughout the film. While this places it occurring during the first two US GRUDGE films, there are no scenes from the original that really tie it to the films. And even if there were, I don’t think that would have saved this one because, honestly, other than the die-hard fans, no one remembers specific details about those films 14 years later anyway. That leads to the main problem of THE GRUDGE, while it was a popular film, now it is looked at as an obscure part of a J-horror trend. But Pesce tries to make references and pay homages to previous scenes in the series in a painstaking and obsessive way. This isn’t the STAR WARS or STAR TREK franchise, but Pesce seems to hold the series in high regard as he ties it in with those films way too closely. This leaves the film lacking in impact to most of the audience who receive the nods and all of the extra work to have it fit in perfectly with deaf ears.

The film advances the curse of THE GRUDGE to a specific family who receives it from, I guess whomever had it at the end of THE GRUDGE 3. This means that the main ghost Kayako gets very little screen time. One might argue that this long-haired croaking ghost is the reason the original series and its US counterpart is so popular in the first place. So of course, it’s a good idea to pass the curse on to a bunch of American characters. This means the ghosts look like American people in zombie makeup. A look infinitely less scary. Also absent, the meowing skinny kid Toshio or Takeo. It seems those behind this film thought the visceral terror of both sound and sight of these two iconic movie monsters weren’t necessary for American audiences. Bad move.

Basically, what we get with THE GRUDGE: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER is an overly complicated side story that occurs alongside the US GRUDGE films. Not only it is meticulous in the way it fits in with the original US series, it makes the mystery within the film that spans three time periods way too complex for its own good. I get what Pesce is trying to do. He wants to show a body in the first few minutes in the film, then flash back and tell a story that leads to where that body comes from. The problem is that he does this about four times in the film, making it almost impossible to follow what’s going on. Each time period has a cast of characters that appear solely in their portion (I think). This not only becomes redundant as it has three different times for the cast to meet the ghosts and try to wrap their brains around what’s going on, but it also makes for a reoccurring ending where one person after another is knocked off with no real weight to their deaths because they happen in such rapid succession.

Speaking of rapid succession, this film is an editing nightmare. Scenes end with a scare only to cut to another story that is supposed to be telling the tale from a year prior. There’s a scene where John Cho is talking on the phone as he looks after what we know to be a Grudge ghost of a little girl. He says that he is watching over the girl and that she had a nosebleed, but he thinks she’s ok now. Cut to the girl vomiting up blood a few feet away from him for a creepy effect. Then there’s a cut to another timeline and when we get back to Cho and the blood-vomiting Grudge ghost, she’s fine and sleeping on the sofa with no sign of blood or no concern from Cho from the scene prior. WTF? Add that to the MTV-style staccato editing and the tired “scare every two seconds” formula and you’ve got a film that is arduous to sit through. I thought the Don Music piano slams and images of a ghost comin’ at cha’ cheats were over and done with, but this film brings it back for a sad encore.

Even the fun Lin Shaye can’t save this film. There are quite a lot of good actors attached here, but the formulaic scares and incoherent plot overshadows their every move. John Cho, Demián Bichir, Lin Shaye, William Sadler? These guys have carried their own films on their own before. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give them any time to shine. They are there to either react to something scary or die or both.

I guess I can commend the film for its excessive gore. There is a lot of it. But other than a nice scene where someone splatters all over the bottom landing of a stairwell after jumping from floors above, this really isn’t a film that does anything original with the spatter. As I said before, while the main fright of the previous films was Kayako and the meowing kid, this film gives us forgettable zombie makeup we see every week on THE WALKING DEAD for their new ghosts.

There are films that lose me and I think, “Maybe this film is just smarter than me.” And I’m ok with that. Then there are films that lose me because they are badly conceived, badly plotted, badly edited, and simply made badly period. I don’t want to condemn Pesce for doing a deep dive into the wrong property. The main problem is that I don’t feel like really doing the homework to “get” this film and I doubt anyone else is willing to either. Even if it is adherent to continuity, Pesce’s main goal should have been making a good standalone GRUDGE film that might spark new interest in the franchise. I think Pesce focused on the wrong thing here. It’s a shame for Pesce, as this film couldn’t be something he would want on his resume. But I still think the director has much better things ahead.