THE GRUDGE. Having emerged from what has disconcertingly become a New Year's tradition of spending the holiday and the week bracketing it, sick abed, I recoiled, mole-like, from an atypically gorgeous January day. There had been rain overnight but it had given way to the sort of limitless cerulean horizon people rush out to make into postcards.
It was almost enough to make a person forget that, in the intervening days since they had last drawn outside air, American constitutional democracy had continued its slow frog-march toward dissolution, that an exceedingly problematic, executive-ordered assassination had taken place abroad, which, in turn, had served to unite a region in renewed (justifiable) hatred and distrust for this country. Almost enough to make me forget that the only reason I was leaving the house was, per my editor's insistence, to watch and review a "reboot" of a middling Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle from 15 years ago. Duty calls. (Editor's note: Some assignments are character building.)
Despite having watched the entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series three times from start to finish, I am not an SMG completionist. I don't think I've seen The Grudge (2004), though I think I could be forgiven for having done so and summarily forgetting the whole affair. That movie came about in the lamentable post-millennium period when Hollywood, even then at a loss for inspiration and ideas, turned to the burgeoning Japanese horror movement, remaking and reminting legitimately interesting movies within years — months, even — of their international releases. It proved to be a rather lucrative, if short-sighted and short-lived gambit, producing, among others, The Ring (2002) and, of course, the subject of the subject of this column, what we then called a remake of Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), written and directed by Takashi Shimizu.
Shimizu was hired on to direct the Americanization of his own movie, which was successful enough, at least commercially, to spawn two sequels that I also did not see. And now this much further along toward an apocalypse of our own making, as an almost humorous reminder of a simpler time, when it seemed weak and derivative to cast about for recent foreign successes and simply recast them with Anglos, we have a new Grudge for the era of reboots (read: even further-diminished creativity).
Today's version, written and directed by Nicholas Pesce (who, according to his IMDb page, wrote and directed a couple of indie features before his shot at the big show) apparently take place concurrently with the events of the 2004 version. There's some dubious shifting between events occurring in 2004, 2005 and 2006, but the short version is as follows.
Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood), leaves Japan, breaking her contract, after experiencing some sort of unpleasantness in the family home where she had ostensibly been employed. Returning to small-town Pennsylvania, she has clearly carried with her some sort of indeterminate supernatural unpleasantness which, as it will, leads her to brutally murder her family and then herself. We're to believe, then, that said unpleasantness takes residence in the Landers home, where it subsequently leads to the undoing of Peter and Nina Spencer (John Cho and Betty Gilpin), the married realtors contracted to sell it. (There's a bit of wasted business about the Spencers' difficult pregnancy, which makes even less sense in the context of the movie than it does in my mention of it.)
At some point, Faith and William Matheson (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) move in, he having become her caretaker as her health fails (I think we're to believe she suffers from a form of dementia, but it's unclear whether she just communicates with ghosts). William hires an assisted suicide consultant named Lorna Moody (Jacki Weaver) who, baffingly, declines to take on Lin's case but volunteers to stay with the couple for a few nights. No surprise, things end badly.
The detectives investigating one of these incidents (I'm sure I could recall if I cared to but I don't) each carry the trauma of what they've witnessed in different ways: Goodman (Demián Bechir) holes up in his late mother's house, chain-smoking. His former partner Wilson (William Sadler) has become criminally insane.
Goodman's current partner Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), recently widowed, new in town with her young son and apparently intended to be our entry point to the story, becomes morbidly fixated on the Landers' case for reasons unknown (perhaps even to the writer of the movie), and things progress as one might expect.
At first I was taken in by the amber, semi-gloss aesthetic of The Grudge but it became clear in very short order that it was not supported by much of a sense of story, or of editorial choice. The movie's fascination with blood-bag special effects did little to help. And so, within 15 minutes or so, the charm had worn off and I was eyeing the exits. R. 93M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
— John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
*Updated listings were not available for Broadway and Mill Creek. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
1917. Muddy and bloody World War I drama about a pair of British soldiers sent behind enemy lines to warn troops heading for an ambush. R. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
DIVING DEEP: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MIKE DEGRUY. Mimi Atkins DeGruy pays tribute to her late husband with this documentary about his career as an ocean explorer. NR. 83M. MINOR.
ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (1970). On stage and backstage with the King. PG. 97M. BROADWAY
JUST MERCY. Michael B. Jordan stars as Bryan Stevenson, a real-life civil rights lawyer, in the fight to free a man (Jamie Foxx) accused of murder in Alabama. With Brie Larson. PG13. 136M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
LIKE A BOSS. Besties (Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne) with a beauty business have to wrest their company from the evil tycoon who's taken it over (Salma Hayek). With Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge. R. 83M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
UNDERWATER. When their deep-sea lab is compromised, a research team (Kristin Stewart, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel) has to venture out to the ocean floor where terrifying creatures await. PG13. 95M. FORTUNA
THE ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS. The 21st annual compilation of the best animated shorts from around the world. NR. MINIPLEX.
BOMBSHELL. Charles Randolph's tremendous script and a revelatory cast (Nicold Kidman, Charlize Theron, John Lithgow) brings villains and victims of the Fox News sexual harassment scandal to life with nuance. R. 108M. BROADWAY.
CATS. A milk-curdling cat scratch fever dream to skip unless your love for the musical is strong enough to carry you through. PG. 110M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FROZEN 2. Elsa and Anna return for more snowbound sisterly adventure and to put that song back in your head. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are literally back in the game, which is glitching. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KNIVES OUT. Director Rian Johnson's tightly controlled whodunnit both pays homage to and raises the stakes of classic mystery with a stellar cast. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY.
LITTLE WOMEN. Writer/director Greta Gerwig's artfully executed and well-acted adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel has narrative complexity that will reward multiple viewings. Starring Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson and Laura Dern. PG. 134M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
RICHARD JEWELL. Clint Eastwood's drama takes damaging liberties with true events, especially for the late Kathy Scruggs, and succeeds best as fiction and in Paul Walter's lead performance. R. 131M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIES IN DISGUISE. Karen Gillan, Will Smith and Tom Holland voice an animated comedy-adventure about a spy who's turned into a pigeon. Yeah, I got nothing. PG. 101M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. J.J. Abrams steers a tremendous cast, fantastic effects and a few rousing sequences but this wrap-up of the Skywalker saga is visually and narratively cacophonous enough to drown out emotional moments. PG. 141M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
UNCUT GEMS. The Safdie brothers' small, tense story about a New York jeweler on the make (Adam Sandler) set against the big city feels like action and horror, filled with simultaneous dread and hope up to its punishing climax. R. 135M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill