Don’t press play on the trailer for The Grudge thinking this is just another J-horror remake. You’re burned, I get it, but take a scroll through the IMDb page. The film is written and directed by Nicolas Pesce. He’s the stylist who delivered the deeply unsettling love letter to gothic horror The Eyes of My Mother as well as the blackly comic thriller Piercing. Two films that look and feel nothing like each other, but both undeniably plant their hooks into your consciousness and refuse to relent. We’re big fans of him around these parts, and all it takes is a sit-down with his previous efforts to get you hyped for his next project.
On top of that confident helmer, the new Grudge brandishes a cast that should make anyone shut up and take notice: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Demián Bichir, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, Lin Shaye, and William Sadler. When we spoke with Shaye last year, she said that the new Grudge “scares the shit out of me.” Considering she’s clocking over 200 credited roles with a majority of them firmly cemented within the horror genre, such bold talk must not be dismissed. What you will find below is a rapid-fire assault of jump-scare imagery, but as we break it down, we discover an assured group of craftsmen at work.
Ick. Cho is going to need more than Head and Shoulders to deal with that dandriff problem. What I love about the Ju-On/Grudge mythology is how it separates itself from the usual upset-ghost haunting. These are not vengeful spirits requiring justice to find peace and silence their tantrums. The horror at work in The Grudge is a curse. A violent death is a stain on the world, and it touches all that come into contact with it. You can’t just make nice with the entity. A far more profound cultural reconciliation is required. Now, let’s chop up the trailer shot by shot, and get into the muck of what’s disturbing Pesce’s iteration.
The trailer opens with a shot of our cursed location. The house is everything. It has to appear like an unassuming, totally suburban piece of blandness from the outside. As Richard Matheson and Stephen King novels have taught us many times over, the house next door is capable of containing as grim a reality as the most spooky and shambling of European castles. Pay attention to your neighbors; they’re building a hell just a few feet from your kitchen table. Peter Spencer (Cho), our intrepid real estate agent, parks his station wagon on the curb and approaches.
Peter and Nina (Gilpin) offer bright, welcoming smiles from their Over the River Real Estate sign. I wonder how agents look upon a murder house. Do they dread the task of selling such a haunted property, or is it an exhilarating challenge? When they gather at the next out-of-state convention, they’ll have the best story to rattle off over drinks at the hotel bar.
We get a flash of the address: 44 Rayburn Drive. Again, Pesce is clearly concerned with establishing a sense of place. As the sun sets, safety diminishes for Spencer. He gives a good rattle with his knuckles. “Hello,” he announces himself. “I’m here about selling the house. Is anyone home?” That’s a good question.
No one answers. He cracks open the door and puts his foot on the property. He’s done it now. No turning back. The curse has him.
A mumbling collection of indecipherable cries catches Peter’s curiosity and he makes his way upstairs. Cinematographer Zack Geller (who shot Piercing for Pesce) soaks the frame in a spewy yellow. The setting sun filtered through the Rayburn house’s toxic window panes elicits nausea in this viewer and should have been warning enough for Peter Spencer to GTFO, but he’s a good guy and wants to help whatever wailing victim he’s walking toward. He follows the sound into the bathroom, where he meets a bathtub filled with rust-colored water.
What’s this sludge? Let me put my face right up to it. Peter seems to be working up the courage to plunge his hand into the muck, draining the wretched wetness from the home he’s tasked himself with selling. He takes a gulp, and a bog bubble gurgles forth…