With the producers of Fede Alvarez’s ‘Don’t Breathe’ also on board, will this remake finally work?
Remakes are part and parcel of Hollywood culture now, especially in the horror genre. I’ve personally adopted a “wait and see” attitude towards them these days, because even if they don’t turn out particularly great, there are some elements — such as casting — that are undeniably intriguing. However, this begs the question: is it enough to hire talented actors to off-set all these potentially contentious decisions to reboot classics or genre staples?
Variety announced this month that the cast of the long-gestating second remake of The Grudge is shaping up, ensuring that the film has finally taken the next step forward after years of development. John Cho (Star Trek) is the latest actor to join a vastly qualified cast, while Andrea Riseborough (Black Mirror) and Demian Bichir (Alien: Covenant) were first confirmed to star in the reboot and newcomer Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) is slated to direct.
For the uninitiated, The Grudge is based on Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On franchise. The series centers on a curse that was born out of deep rage felt during a person’s death. This rage plagues the site of death, passing along to any people living there or to those who come into contact with other cursed individuals.
Shimizu also directed the first American take — a remake of the third film in his original series, Ju-On: The Grudge). Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, the 2004 version, just titled The Grudge, features an American exchange student as its protagonist, but Kayako — the original ghost from the Japanese films — is still very much present and a key antagonist in the film.
What seems to set the new version of The Grudge apart has to do with this mythology. Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train) was hired to write the screenplay for The Grudge reboot a few years ago and worked on a story featuring brand new characters and new ghosts. The remake will reportedly drop hints at the lore of the original Japanese films but will mostly stand alone as a fresh take on the franchise. Buhler confirmed that producers — which includes Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi — have worked hard to ensure that the reboot features a story “that makes sense and is intelligent and which delves into real relationships and real people and scares the shit out of the audience.”
According to Raimi:
“We are so excited about this new adaptation. We went back to the original source material to deliver a relentless supernatural thrill ride that explores the horrors of American suburbia.”
The horror genre has been doing rather well recently in both mainstream and indie contexts. A Stephen King obsession is flourishing at the movies and on TV, and films like It Follows and Don’t Breathe make a lingering impact on the genre in a more subtle way. Get Out won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in February 2018 along with a slew of other accolades. Furthermore, with classics like Halloween finding their way back to the big screen, there seems ot be no better than time than the present to resurrect some other nightmarish staples.
Admittedly, from what we know about the new Grudge remake so far, there doesn’t seem to be much necessity to associate the film with the series, besides obvious reasons of existing reputation, just because it sounds so different. Neither Ju-On: The Grudge or its 2004 remake did very much for critics or audiences in the first place. But at this point, it seems to be one of the most remake-able series given its universally effective premise. Behind the scenes, Raimi has had some producing wins in the past, yet he’s partially responsible for bringing the awful Poltergeist remake to life too. This could be a cause for concern among audiences and even fans when he’s clearly better as a director.
The cast is more of a sure bet to prevent The Grudge from going haywire. Hopefully Cho gets the kind of primary role he deserves in the film. He should have gotten a lot more buzz last year for his utterly impressive bare-bones performance in Kogonada’s Columbus. That film reaffirms that he is an intriguing performer who has, for so long, not gotten his due.
Although Columbus was a good dramatic break from Cho’s work in genre cinema, one of the best things about him is he’s a very versatile actor and is a perfect fit anywhere from comedy (the Harold & Kumar series) to romance (Selfie), from sci-fi (Star Trek) to horror (Sleepy Hollow). After also starring in the second season of Fox’s anthology series The Exorcist, The Grudge could be the right next step for him.
But again, given other known factors about the film, we’ll have to wait and see.