Zombos Says: Fair
The vengeful ghost in The Grudge 2 is a yūrei--definitely. Telltale signs are the long black hair that hangs disheveled, and the dangling; you know, the twisting, floating--sort of lopsided walk--most J-Horror apparitions do when staring you down, or just before they ring your neck into a pretzel. And those wide-eyed, gray-skinned ghosts definitely haunt a particular place. No, wait a minute. They do tend to leave the house a lot, even in The Grudge, and in this sequel they've hopped all the way over to Chicago. So they are now haunting two places at once. There's nothing about yūrei haunting two places at once. Damn. And what's with that little gray boy that meows like a cat, and the cat that doesn't meow at all?
The Grudge 2 is a bit confusing at first. Director Takashi Shimizu weaves his continuing tale of blind rage and death between three plotlines: three school girls in Japan dumb enough to go into that house; Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) traveling to Japan to find out why her sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is accused of murder and arson; and a romantic relationship in Chicago that escalates into darkness, witnessed by a frightened young boy.
The opening breakfast scene jars you to attention, but before you can say "We should have gone to IHOP," we cut to Japan and three school girls--one Japanese, two American, and all three heading for a major bad hair day. The tall, not-so-hip Allison tags along as they enter the haunted house where it all started. On a dare, she enters the closet. That infamous closet. Shimizu does a good job of building this claustrophobic scene to it's expected climax with solid scares. Closets can be very scary, whether you are hiding in them or hoping nothing pops out of them. And the way you can never find things in closets--yes, they're evil, pure and simple.
But this early scene is the only true scare in the entire film. While there are shock-cuts galore, Shimizu dotes on showing us the deadly duo again and again, as they appear under sheets, in windows, in hallways, on desk tops, and in sweatshirts (you will understand that when you see it). The tableaus are visually clever, but swing more toward the manga-style of visual cleverness making it all humorous; and lose their scariness and suspense by doing so. Instead of sustained tension from the unseen, Shimizu has created Hollywoodized slasher-yūrei monsters that rack up the body count in ever clever but not very scary ways. Instead of tight glimpses of that stark, wide-eyed pasty face of evil--covered by severe split ends of hair--we see lingering shots of it appearing out of photographs and mirrors.
This is not to say Shimizu has done a bad job: he's just Americanized J-Horror to a stage where The Grudge has become a franchise. What was once iconic J-Horror imagery has now been replaced with your typical American horror movie modus operandi--and would you like fries with that?
A journalist researching the murders since the first occurrence joins Aubrey Davis in searching for answers to the mysterious deaths. Finding a journal written by an eight year old girl in the closet, he brings it to a friend who studies Japanese folklore. The journal explains some things, perhaps including why the original evil or rage came into existence, but before Davis and the journalist can head out to see the person who may be responsible for the evil, the yūrei pay a visit in a well-staged, but to be expected, scene involving photographs, photo developing trays, and really bad over-exposure on a negative.
As Aubrey pursues the answers to this mystery, our three daring school girls are not faring so well. The yūrei are working overtime to make sure no one who visits their humble abode goes without a thank you from hell. And Jake, the young frightened boy in Chicago, is also experiencing new tenant issues--only these tenants don't walk up the stairs, and they make a hell of a lot of noise, too. The neighbors next door, the Flemings, also have a hooded guest who creeps him out. Strange noises and pounding from their apartment eventually force him to find out who the hooded person is, and why dad is going bonkers.
The score is actually quite good, creating more of an ominous mood than most of the movie. The weird gurgling, clicking sound made by the broken-neck yūrei apparition is also used very well here. It provides more chills than most of the closeups. The acting is topnotch, too. But the continual cutting back and forth between the separate plotlines is confusing, and has a dulling effect on what should be mounting tensions leading to a climax.
And what a disappointing climax. As one character notes, "there can be no end to what has started." I would modify this to "there can be no end to a cash-cow franchise in Hollywood, so what you see is what you get until The Grudge 3. And don't expect much there, either if we can strudel* the story along to The Grudge 4."
*strudel: the fine Hollywood art of stretching a concept for all its worth, using as little 'filling' as possible to keep you coming back for more.