Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

Ju-on: The Grudge first published by Movie Gazette (2003)

In 1998, director Hideo Nakata released Ring (Ringu), a chilling old-school horror story furnished with new(ish) technology – and ever since then, it has cast a long, dark shadow of influence and imitation. Within a year there was Nakata’s own sequel, Ringu 2 (1999), and then a prequel, as well as remakes of the original from both Korea (Kin Dong-bin’s The Ring Virus, 1999) and Hollywood (Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, 2002) – and now Nakata himself has returned to direct an American version of his own sequel (The Ring 2, [2005]). Yet if Ring has spread through the horror scene like a virus, there have also been some interesting mutations of its uncanny style – Nakata’s own less sensational, more substantial Dark Water (2002), as well as films like the Pang brothers’ The Eye (2002), Ahn Byeong-ki’s The Phone (2002), Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) – and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on cycle. 

After some earlier shorts that went viral, Ju-on began its feature-length life in 2000 as a pair of shot-to-video telemovies, whose spooky success earned Shimizu financial backing to revive it for the big screen in 2002, retaining the basic premise while radically rewriting the story and characters (and improving the horror effects out of sight). A sequel (Ju-On: The Grudge 2) followed in 2003, and then the inevitable American re-make (The Grudge, currently in post-production). Shimizu is clearly travelling in Nakata’s wake, even to the extent that Hiroshi Takahashi, the screenwriter of Ring, is listed as a ‘creative consultant’ on Ju-on, and many of the film’s features are familiar from Nakata’s work – from the creepy little boy to the long-haired female ghost, from the terrified schoolgirls to a clairvoyant father and child, from the mirror that plays tricks to the use of telephones, televisions, videotapes and photographs as sources of fear, and from the haunting that results from a brutal murder to the deadly force that propagates itself like a virus. 

Yet it is in its non-linear, highly episodic structure that Ju-on differs from Ring. At first the film appears to comprise an arbitrary set of variations on a theme, wherein unconnected characters are seen being undone, one after the other, by a curse that relentlessly pursues all who encounter it. Yet far from being merely a compendium of eerie, if slightly repetitive, supernatural set-pieces (although it certainly is that), the different episodes of Ju-on are gradually seen to be linked, albeit linked in a manner that defies chronology, confounds identity and leaves sanity sobbing in the dark – and it is its deep-seated irrationality which will continue haunting the corridors, closets and attics of your mind long after you have recovered from the peculiar horror of a boy emitting the shrieking meow of a cat. 

Summary: Ring redux, but with a haunting disregard for chronology or logic, and lots of cats.

© Anton Bitel