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Oct 28, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 27: JU-ON (2002) [a.k.a. JU-ON: THE GRUDGE]



In the late 90s/early 2000s, the Japanese film industry was producing exceptional horror movies that were being noticed by the international film community. Two in particular - Ringu in 1998 and Ju-On (also known as Ju-On: The Grudge) in 2002 - grew a cult following and both inspired American remakes (Ringu was remade into The Ring in 2002 starring Naomi Watts, and Ju-On was remade as The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jason Behr in 2004, and was directed by and featured individuals involved in the original).

Let me whisper something in your ear...
Both Ringu and Ju-On have a common plot device. Characters encounter a cursed item or house, and end up dead soon after. In Ringu it is a VHS tape that when viewed, your life was then put on a countdown to expiration. In Ju-On it is a cursed house.

You are going to have nightmares after this.
Ju-On's structure is unconventional. It is a series of non-chronological vignettes that take place over several years rather than a straight forward narrative. It centers around a house where a mother, son and family cat (yes, the cat) were murdered by the patriarch when he discovered that his wife was in love with another man. This brings a curse down on the family that resurrects them as ghosts, and the wife took her revenge on the husband out on the street. Now whomever enters the house is affected by the curse, and eventually dies at the hands of the mother and child's spirits. Not only that, but the curse spreads like a virus to wherever the victim meets their end. It is like the Ebola version of a curse.

If we stare at her long enough, perhaps she'll wake up.
Each section features a different character discovering and eventually succumbing to the effects of the curse - a social worker, a young married couple, one of their relatives, police officers and a group of school girls. They all experience strange visions of the child and mother with super-pale, white skin and wild looking eyes. There is a strange sound before the victims meet their doom, one that I used to be able to make when I first saw the film but found myself unable to do so last night. Obviously I am out of practice.

Could you please grab an extra sheet, it's kind of chilly down here.
I recall Ju-On being extremely scary and unnerving (although I found Ringu and remake The Ring more so) but when revisiting it last night, it wasn't nearly as effective as it was when I first saw it in 2003. I was kind of bored with it after a while. Is it perhaps because directors like James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious) and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) have taken scary to a whole new level? This film felt tame, although the creepy kid and mother who crawls on all fours (much like Regan's deleted Spiderwalk sequence from The Exorcist that was added in the director's cut) still managed to give me chills. Also a moment where while in the shower, one of the characters discovers a ghostly hand grabbing her head is still very unnerving, as is a moment where a character discovers that she has uninvited company in bed with her.

Help I've fallen and I can't get up!
The fact that the film lacks a cohesive narrative and really is just scene-after-scene of the characters encountering the ghosts in different ways lessens the impact of each as the picture progresses. I did enjoy the story of the school girls, which is probably the scariest of the bunch, but the others felt redundant. I recall the remake The Grudge having more of a narrative.

These cursed spirits aren't so bad. They just want to play a game of peek-a-boo.
For me, Ju-On did not stand up to the test of time making me wonder if a Ringu revisit would suffer the same fate.