Grudge [2004]

The Grudge 2 is a spooky installment in Takashi Shimizu's hardworking Ju-on/Grudge series of horror pictures. It doesn't carry the disorienting thrill of the very first Japanese Ju-on features, but it's a lot creepier than anybody could have expected. The story picks up from the end of the first Hollywood version of The Grudge, and has nothing to do with Ju-on 2, Shimizu's Japanese sequel. Sarah Michelle Gellar returns (a distinctly supporting role) as an American woman traumatized by her experiences with a haunted house in Tokyo; younger sister Amber Tamblyn flies over to help out. This particular storyline doesn't have much meat on it; the murder house is still there, and people who go inside have a disconcerting habit of dropping dead. Fortunately, two other plots thread into the basic one: a group of American schoolgirls in Tokyo become intrigued by the legend of the house, and some Chicago apartment dwellers are unsettled by domestic anxiety and the weird sounds coming from next door. (This storyline, featuring Jennifer Beals, gives the film its extremely satisfying opening sequence.) As usual with these movies, sequences come to us in non-chronological order, and it's up to us to piece it together. You can guess where the film is going, but the slow trajectory toward its final sequences is surprisingly involving. The movie was widely panned upon its release, which says more about the presumption of the law of diminishing sequel returns than the film itself--it's a decent little horror flick. --Robert Horton

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