Having watched many original foreign films before they are turned into Hollywood films, particularly the recent spate of Asian movies, I was immediately sceptical about this one. It’s another direct remake and this time with the unknown talents of Sarah Michelle Gellar, straight from Buffy and Scooby Doo. Yet things do stand out, the Raimi Studio Ghost House Pictures and the original Director in charge, Takashi Shimizu.
Comparing this movie to the original is a simple thing to do, it’s almost identical. Forget the change of actors and language, the story is identical, as is the house in which it is set. What has been done to the story in this remake is something I would normally disagree with, the story explanation itself has been altered.
In Asian films the trend is subtlety. Just off camera, background framing, visual connections, etc. During a Hollywood remake these are pulled into frame, to the foreground and provided with voiced narratives. Essentially these sutleties are dumbed down for the western audiences.
In Grudge the story is actually made easier to understand and follow which is no bad thing. The original did have a disjointed storyline with an inconclusive ending. So with this remake Ghost Pictures and the original Director, rather than dumbing the film down, have actually increased its accessibility and understanding, and that’s from an Asian film fan.
I actually felt that the story in this remake is stronger than the first. It does start off with some traditional Hollywood scares and also ends on the same track, with closing scenes that are almost atypical of Hollywood, just managing to pull it back at the very end. However the rest of the film is very intelligent and the scares spoolier and much creepier than traditional Hollywood horrors. Still, as the first one, it feels slightly incomplete as a single film, hence the announced remake.
The use of the camera has not been taken from the Director with his move to Hollywood. The angles used are slightly unusual, particularly when shotting inside the house. This makes the film feel slightly odd and disconcerting throughout, and combined with the often freaky images of the ghosts themselves makes for a quite frightening experience.
Something that deserves a particular mention in this film are the titles. They are very well designed and create the first layer of unease of the film, setting the dark tone.
There are however a couple of points about the film I wasn’t so sure about. One is a single scene at the start of the film. As a wife gazes down at her dead husband, her mouth merely drops open and she looks to him with hardly a touch of emotion on her face. Unnatural to say the least.
The second point is Gellar. There are some moments where she is prone to a bout of overacting. Rather than a psychological horror at times her acting resembles a scene from Scooby Doo. To be fair though these moments are in single figures and for the film she does an excellent job of making me forget Buffy. She shows that she can do more than TV comedy and in fact is a very competent actress. On second viewing, during the audio commentary, I definitely got a sense of a much stronger performance than I felt on the first.
Presented: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic
The picture was strong with very natural lighting, this was very noticable during scenes with the outdoor of the house which although located in a sound stage looked very much like it was outdoors.
Something I’m particularly pleased with on this DVD were the black levels. They were spot on with my system which is calibrated against the natural light in the room. The areas of the picture which were black were actually black and not brightened up grey.
Presented: Dolby Digital 5.1
The audio was another great feature of the DVD, it was strong and precise and on my system it added so much more to the film.
The death screams from the ghost were so eerie and carried around the room, hanging behind you. As if that wasn’t enough the scene with the child running around the room unseen provided a spooky experience with the footsteps running around the cinema room! The sound was precise and very clear and really did compliment the atmosphere of the film, helping to heighten the tension.
Presented: Audio commentary from members of the cast and crew including Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi and Sarah Michelle Gellar; ‘Under The Skin’: a featurette exploring the medical explanations of fear response in film, and ‘The Birth Of The Grudge’ featurette
The Audio Commentary is very good on this DVD, graced with the voices of Raimi (both Sam and Ted), Gellar, Jason Behr, Stephen Susco (screenplay), Rob Tapert and KaDee Strickland. Gellar does most of the talking, but everyone makes themselves heard and provides for a funny and very engaging commentary.
Dead will rise, innocent will suffer, guilty must be punishedThe rules of horror – The Raimi’s
Some interesting things are revealed such as the fact that all the house shots are actually on a sound stages, Tokyo and a full Japanese crew were used for the filming, and there does exist a full Shizimu Directors edit with additional scary scenes.
Some featurettes also grace the extras on the DVD. Some of these are excellent and provide a great explanation of why the remake happened and the involvement of the stars including Raimi and Shizimu. There are also some talks of Japanese culture, their belief in ghosts, the emotions held in death, and the original myth which brought about the story. It all makes from some very intelligent, informative and quite educational extras.
The extras do falter slightly on the Directors praise featurette which proves to be a bit much praise and not enough serious critique.
All in all this is actually a very good film and a strong performance from Gellar. It definitely continues to show that good remakes can come from Asian films but they muct be handled with care and with the original creatives involved.
The extras really do bolster this DVD offering with a very strong audio commentary and solid featurettes. Add to this a strong picture and well designed audio transfer and the DVD really does score highly, yet I have to mark it down for the mention of the Shizimu Directors Cut – where is it, and why isn’t it on the disc? Another marketing ploy to stretch the sales on the next release perhaps?
Still it’s a good film, a great remake, and a superb indicator for future offerings from Ghost House Pictures.