I have to admit, when I first saw that there was going to be a reboot of The Grudge, I was instantly annoyed. Why were they going to reboot one of the scariest movies from my childhood? The Grudge (2004) is was one of the few movies from my early teenage years I can remember freaking me out for more than one night. I was too afraid to look under my covers for quite some time. Thanks a lot Takashi Shimizu.
Once I started looking into the reboot more, I actually became quite interested in it knowing that Nicolas Pesce was directing. I became a fan of his after seeing The Eyes of My Mother (2016) years ago. Additionally, a week before the release of The Grudge (2020), I watched his film Piercing (2018) and despite not enjoying it as much as Eyes, it was clear to me that Pesce was a director with a strong vision. With that in mind, I thought that if Pesce was directing Grudge, he would give us something worth watching.
When you are going to reboot a film like The Grudge, you should have a new twist to the franchise or a story worth telling. Rebooting a franchise doesn’t bother me if it is already accustomed to having “episodes” or one-offs to its franchise (think Halloween or Friday the 13th), but The Grudge is not like that and honestly its background doesn’t provide material that can sustain multiple movies without feeling stale. David Gordon Green and Danny McBride did a great job of rebooting a franchise (Halloween) and going in a slightly different direction while still remaining faithful to the original franchise we grew to love. This is not to say all reboots have to be faithful to its original source material. Hell, even though I enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) I still wish we had gotten a Phil Lord and Christopher Miller Star Wars movie.
Pesce is credited not only as the lone screenplay writer, but he is also credited with writing the initial story for The Grudge (2020) with fellow horror writer Jeff Buhler. With that in mind, I want to give Pesce the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t take this project only because the money from Sony Pictures was too good to pass up. I don’t see Pesce’s screenplay as the main problem with the movie. I think telling three different stories and having them come together in the end was an interesting touch and something different from the prior Grudge movies. The Grudge‘s story structure is probably one of the only strong components of it. It’s not perfect or great, but it would have been sufficient enough. The film’s greatest strength is Andrea Riseborough’s performance, one WAY better than it ever deserved. You could tell she was incredibly committed and I was really impressed by her.
The major problem with The Grudge, is you can see its filmmakers conflicting back and forth throughout the movie. You have Nicolas Pesce in one corner and the producers from Sony Pictures in the other. If I’ve learned anything from watching Pesce’s other movies, it’s that he wants to focus on building atmosphere and tension. He doesn’t want to provide jump scares, he wants to make you feel uneasy. Sony Pictures wanted to follow the formula of commercial horror. They felt they needed to provide those jump scares that teenagers expect and supposedly crave.
There are moments that you can tell Pesce is trying to build tension. For example, there’s someone or something creepy standing in the background that the movie doesn’t draw obvious attention to through framing and obnoxious organ noises. But there are other moments where it feels like the movie is doing things because ‘that’s how you’re supposed to do it.’ If someone had a playbook of modern horror from major studios it would look like The Grudge (2020). Hit this beat here, then this one, and the main character should do this here… This could be due to Sony Pictures telling Pesce how to direct a horror movie. They may have even given him a playbook of sorts and he tried hard to satisfy them while still trying to make the movie he wanted to make. I also believe that Sony Pictures saw Pesce’s initial cut of the movie, panicked and tried really hard to change the edit into something “friendly” for casual horror movie goers. I think the main giveaway is its lousy jump scares.
The Grudge practically creates jump scares out of thin air sometimes. The editors, Ken Blackwell and Gardner Gould, must have been working overtime trying to create jump scares that were never created during the filmmaking process. I appreciate their effort, especially since they probably didn’t have a choice, but you can’t create a jump scare that were never really there to begin with. You can add as many loud noises and speed up the clip as much as you want, but it will never work the way it should. Pesce’s vision is there, but it’s overpowered by Sony Pictures and its need to appeal to everyone.
I of course have to acknowledge that all of this business with Nicolas Pesce vs. Sony Pictures is all speculation and I am not presenting any undeniable proof. However, considering studios micromanaging and cutting up small indie directors’ first studio project is not unheard of, it’s worth considering here in the case of The Grudge (2020).
Skip this reboot.