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Sarah Michelle Gellar - "The Grudge 2" Movie - Unrated DVD - Ign.com Review

Scott Collura & Cindy White

Friday 23 February 2007, by Webmaster

The Grudge 2 (Unrated Director’s Cut)

The Japanese import returns with another creepy installment.

February 22, 2007 - Unlike its predecessor, The Grudge 2 isn’t technically a remake. Rather than following the story of the Japanese sequel Ju-on 2, the English-language sequel is based on an original script by Stephen Susco. Unfortunately, there isn’t much about it that feels all that original.

For those who don’t remember the premise of the original film, the concept is helpfully spelled out in the opening titles: "When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage... a curse is born." The narrative of this film is split into three different stories, each connected to the titular curse and the angry ghosts of a murdered woman and her son (and their cat) who haunt and torture anyone who steps foot in their house ("the most haunted house in all of Japan," one character informs us). Of the three stories, one is unsettlingly creepy; one is a healthy dose of exploitative fun; and one is a tedious rehash of what happened in the first film. Guess which one the film focuses on the most (if you guessed the third, bonus points).

In a storyline carried over from the original film, Amber Tamblyn plays Aubrey Davis, the sister of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Karen Davis, who has landed in the hospital after setting the house on fire and killing her boyfriend in an attempt to end the curse. Aubrey is sent to Tokyo by her sickly mother (Joanna Cassidy, who proves she can rock even in the smallest of roles) to find out what happened to her favorite daughter. When she gets there, she finds Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, phoning it in for what must have been a contractually obligated cameo) in a state of shock. She also meets Eason, a journalist who has already been in the house and is looking for a way to break the cycle of death.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

There’s also a plot (borrowed from the original Ju-on, but cut out for the remake) involving a group of high school girls who go to the house to play a prank on a fellow student, Allison (Arielle Kebbel), and soon become victims of the grudge. While this aspect of the film clearly is an attempt to appeal to the widest audience for horror films these days (teenagers), it also provides some of the scariest jumps in the film, and is necessary to set up the third story, which proves to be the most interesting of the three. Also, it allows the film to devote a good amount of screen time to school girls in uniform, not an unwelcome sight among the male audience members, I’m guessing.

What works best in the film, however, is the part of the story which revolves around the residents of an apartment building, who seem to be gradually succumbing to the effects of the curse. The unsettling nature of the storyline is set up in the opening scene of the film, but then abandoned while less engaging threads are followed. Set in Chicago, the plot centers on two children dealing with the introduction of a new step-mom (Jennifer Beals). The revelation of how this is all related to the curse is saved for the climax of the film, and isn’t lessened too much by the fact that it’s utterly predictable. The scenes with these characters almost feel like an entirely different movie, and a much better one. If only the filmmakers hadn’t felt the need to tether the story to the previous film, and made this the centerpiece of the sequel. That’s a movie I’d want to see.

Takashi Shimizu, who directed both Ju-on and The Grudge, returns to the helm here with the same bag of tricks — the Japanese style of horror is more subtle and more direct at the same time than the kinds of scares Hollywood traditionally provides. But with all the remakes that have come and gone in an effort to capitalize on the success of The Ring, the novelty has long worn off. There is little that is new here, but what is new works well. There’re plenty of scares and some genuinely chilling moments, but the film quickly becomes a game of guessing when and how the ghosts will show up each time a character is left alone.

Despite the problems with her segments of the film, and a leaden script, Tamblyn is always an endearing presence on screen. She gives the film an emotional weight it might not otherwise have. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but could have used a few more Asian faces. It almost seems as if the ghosts just hate anyone who speaks English. Aren’t we at a point in cinematic history where the main characters don’t have to be white for us to care about them?

Score: 4 out of 10

The Video The film is presented on DVD in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which is almost flawless. Shadows are of particular importance in this haunted house tale, and the disc manages to cut a clean and crisp swath of contrast between its darks and lights throughout the film’s running time. Colors are well represented, and the overall creepiness of the film is helped by a strong transfer.

Score: 9 out of 10

The Audio The Grudge 2: Unrated Director’s Cut includes both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks. Again, the horror film elements are well served by this DVD, with the sound mix supporting the jumpy scares that Shimizu has in store for viewers. The surround speakers are active throughout, with heavy bass driving the horrific Grudge point home at key moments. Dialogue and music are differentiated well and are never overcrowded by the surround effects. English and French subtitles are also included.

Score: 9 out of 10

Extras and Packaging While a DVD version that offers the theatrical cut of the film is also available (and apparently offers some of the same extras as this release), this review focuses on the unrated director’s cut of The Grudge 2. The package consists of a standard single-disc Amaray case with a one-page insert ad for other Sony DVD releases on one side and an anti-piracy ad on the other.

The extra features on this set include:

* Shorts: Three "Tales from The Grudge" short films with Sam Raimi introduction * Featurette: "Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio" * Featurette: "East Meets West" * Featurette: "The Grudge 2: Storyline Development" * Featurette: "Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu" * Cast & Crew Reel Change Montage * Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending & Epilogue * Trailers

The unrated director’s cut features about six minutes of additional footage, most of which would seem to serve only to extend the running time of what is already a film that seems to drag on and on. Is anyone really fooled by the marketing departments of studios these days that whip up "unrated director’s cuts" at the drop of a street-date hat?

Extra features are fairly generous on this release, considering its status as a not very successful sequel to a horror movie. Beginning with an unusually restrained Sam Raimi (who often is rather kooky when spotted or heard on DVD extras), who introduces three short films based on the concept of The Grudge, the package is off to a nice start. The shorts were made by up and comer Toby Wilkins, who Raimi apparently discovered at a film festival. In the films, a young guy keeps finding long, dark, and wet hair in his mouth — and if that wasn’t bad (and gross enough), it turns out that it’s the hair of our favorite ghost with a grudge! Soon the curse is spreading to his friends and family, and you can guess how that works out. While a nice change of pace as far as extra features go, these shorts ultimately don’t add up to much — it would have been far more interesting to see Raimi’s own twisted take on the series, in fact.

It falls to the featurettes to carry the bulk of the making-of details, since the filmmaker himself is of course Japanese and apparently therefore not inclined to provide an audio commentary (though why not subtitle such a track?). "Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio" focuses on the casting and the creation of the ghostly characters of the piece. Shimizu explains how he found his Kayako (actress Takako Fuji) in a play, and subsequently cast her in a student film. The rest, it seems, is history, as she went on to appear in the original Japanese version of this series, Ju-on, several times in addition to the American films.

"East Meets West" is pretty interesting with its discussion of how the original Grudge project originated, and how making a horror film in Hollywood is different from making one in Japan. The expected cast and crew interviews are here, including an appearance from Raimi’s lesser-known partner Rob Tapert. "The Grudge 2: Storyline Development" is obviously about the scripting of the film. Shimizu explains that, after the six or so Grudge films that he’s done (including the Japanese versions), he was not interested in remaking Ju-on 2, hence the original script by Stephen Susco for this film. Also interesting, if brief, is the discussion about how the question of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s involvement or lack thereof in the project kept leading to reworking the script.

The featurettes are rounded out by "Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu," which of course centers on the director himself. It’s a bit of a puff piece, really, but then again one must give credit where credit’s due — good and bad, as the Grudge films have been both. An oddity on the DVD is the "Cast & Crew Reel Change Montage"; not really a featurette, it’s basically just an assemblage of shots of various crew members... holding that clapperboard that we all recognize from movie sets. Good for them — they can show this extra to their mom.

Four deleted scenes are also included ("When Closet Door Opens," "Itako’s Film," "The Passport," and "Aubrey’s Dream") as well as an alternate ending and epilogue. They basically consist of more grab-bag scary stuff, though that ending might actually be superior to the one actually used in the film.

A collection of trailers is also here, for Ghost Rider, Curse of the Golden Flower, Spider-Man 3, Premonition, Casino Royale, Hostel, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Grudge, The Covenant, and Gridiron Gang.

Score: 6 out of 10

The Bottom Line Horror aficionados will no doubt feel compelled to check this disc out if only because of the "unrated" label on the package, and the extra features and fine transfer do make the DVD worth a rental perhaps. But for those truly seeking to hold a grudge, check out the original Japanese version for a change.