By all rights, the Japanese horror movie franchise “Ju-on” should be played out. Filmmaker Takashi Shimizu has cranked out at least four variations on the idea in Japan (some of them for home video) and with “The Grudge 2,” he’s completed his second Hollywood version of the story.
Shimizu is either an obsessive or a very shrewd guy, because “The Grudge 2” turns out to be a genuinely spooky sequel. He’s using the same kinds of scares, but they still work.
This film has no plot connection to “Ju-on 2,” the Japanese sequel. It picks up from the 2004 Hollywood version, which sent Sarah Michelle Gellar to Tokyo to get mixed up with a very nasty haunted house.
Here, Gellar is still alive, but freaked out. Her sister (Amber Tamblyn) comes to Japan to investigate what happened, and inevitably finds herself drawn to the same troublesome house. (Why is it that people in horror movies must enter houses when they know they will be doomed if they do?) The place still has a couple of blue-faced ghosts in residence.
Like the other “Ju-on” films, this one has an interesting non-chronological structure, and we jump around from the sister’s saga to two other plots. In truth, the other stories are needed, because the Tamblyn plot is almost non-existent. One story is set two years ahead of the main action, with teenage American girls at an international school in Tokyo becoming too curious about the murder scene.
The other plot line is set in Chicago, where a new wife (Jennifer Beals, from “Flashdance”) settles into an uneasy life with her husband’s family. This segment gives the movie its jumpy opening scene, which remains puzzling until later in the film.
Along with the jolts, the fun of “The Grudge 2” is figuring out how these pieces fit together. In fact, part of the gooseflesh effect is realizing how the house’s sinister events touch all these characters.
Shimizu spends much time dreaming up places for his ghosts to appear – shower stall, phone booth, underneath a school desk. I admit I didn’t see the photography lab coming.
It won’t change the world, but “The Grudge 2” will hold its core audience in thrall. Long enough to develop another sequel, anyway.
“The Grudge 2”
Takashi Shimizu’s horror franchise still has some scares left in it, as this sequel to the 2004 “Grudge” makes clear. Amber Tamblyn takes over the lead role, although the film navigates three parallel stories at once – and juggles its two blue-faced ghosts, of course.
PG-13 rating is for violence, subject matter.
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