In the old days of old flicks in monochrome, there was Nosferatu and The Mummy. Then came werewolves, robots, zombies, high-rise apes and acid-spewing aliens with mouths like nesting dolls from outer-space. Now, the world trembles before a new cinematic abomination, a creature so horrible, millions shrink and shriek at its mere presence on the screen. It's?it's?Sarah Michelle Gellar!
Oh. Sorry, Buffy fans. Freudian slip.
There is actually a real monster in The Grudge, this year's sweaty yet clammy Halloween hit-and-miss, and it is just about the freakiest, nastiest thing to squirm around on the big screen since Bennifer. Never one to give up on a good thing, Hollywood summoned it back from its success in The Ring for a second Japanese-remake appearance, this time courtesy of original director Takashi Shimizu instead of an American substitute. I am, of course, talking about the terrifying, horrifying, Undead Female With Long Straight Hair Hanging Over Her Face.
I'm serious. UFWLSHHOHF, or whatever, will make you ask your friends to push their bangs behind their ears. Yeah, laugh it up, but you'll learn to respect this unkempt killer after tossing and turning with the night light on, staring out into the dark, half expecting to see this ghastly thing at the foot of your bed, looking all bogey-eyed and ready to swallow you whole. Trust me on this one. Waking up in a cold sweat may give you your own bad hair day.
Gellar stars as Karen Davis, our twenty-something American heroine living in Japan to be with her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr). Far from turning vampires into white meat on the WB, Karen works at a local care center, where she is assigned to visit a house cursed by the legacy of a terrible murder. All those who have entered the house before are dying mysterious deaths, so she must find a way to defeat it before it consumes her. Booo-ring.
The real fun comes with the overdone extras: Add one part ooh-aah investigation, two parts creepy-crawly special effects, two cups of mopey, expendable victims, and one un-dead female villain. Dip in a vat of incessant suspense, stirring continuously. Bring to a boil. The result is a bitter little dish?crunchy with a slight taste of corn?but guaranteed to wake you up.
At the very least, for our sakes, Gellar doesn't do much in the way of actual acting. Our baby-blonde princess walks around, looks around, and spends some time staring at things. She doesn't scream; screaming is so 90s. Besides, we wouldn't want to outdo that killer, nails-on-chalkboard soundtrack. Gellar is content just holding that painfully vacant expression of hers for minutes at a time, even when she's inches away from a deadly mouth-to-mouth with Mrs. Snarly Hairball. It's precious. Bill Paxton, who plays an American professor involved in the murder that cursed the house, says even less. The boyfriend coo-coos and cuddles. Everyone else could have been reading from cue cards.
The only character to say anything worth a boo is our sickly Pantene Pro-V model herself. What comes out of her pseudo-mouth can't qualify as human speech, though; it's kind of a back-of-the-throat, stuttered gasp. But it does more for the film than any dialogue, and once you hear it, you won't soon forget it.
After all, this is a haunted-house ghoul who can follow her victims home. That's what gives this film its most horrific quality?a wilting, claustrophobic dread. It's limited to the house at first, following the tight camera shots and suffocating cinematography. But then it reaches the world outside and becomes almost unbearable. Surely, we think, this can all be stopped. It has to be.
Make what you will of the ending, the awfully sudden chop-off-the-block ending, but it's the sign of why the film, despite its unending jumps, eventually falls flat. But what The Grudge lacks in intrigue, it more than makes up for in sheer fear economy. Think you like being scared? Think again, 'cause this is about as close to shock therapy as cinema can get, jump after exhausting jump until you fall over, limp. See how long your eyes stay bulged. See how many movie-goers adopt the fetal position. See if you can stand it.