Live-in nurse Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) leaves a house in Tokyo disturbed. She decides to return home immediately and warmly greets her family in their house on Reyburn Drive in Cross River, Pennsylvania. Two years later, against the advice of her partner, Detective Goodman (Demián Bichir), Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) starts to investigate a series of deaths that are all connected to the house on Reyburn. As Muldoon starts to suffer hallucinations and see ghosts, she comes to believe that the house is haunted, with a curse that’s highly contagious.
The fourth instalment to the American ‘The Grudge’ film series (the original horror movie was Japanese and inspired several sequels of its own) is not so much a sequel as a ‘sidequel’ to the 2004 movie of the same name starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. The events of ‘The Grudge’ 2020 take place between 2004 and 2006, not that it utilises the noughties setting in any kind of meaningful way.
There’s a mix of familiar faces in Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Betty Gilpin (‘GLOW’), Jacki Weaver and William Sadler, among lesser known actors like Tara Westwood. Mixed in with them are horror alums like Demián Bichir (‘The Nun’) and Lin Shaye (‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘Critters’, ‘Insidious’). Everyone’s really just running around being scared so you couldn’t exactly say where the standout performances lie, though it’s clear former ‘scream queen’ Shaye is a natural, and Cho and Gilpin bring tenderness and empathy to the storyline of them expecting their first child.
As we observe how various couples, families and individuals are affected by the curse, the movie jumps through time. The mystery of what happened keeps you invested, though anyone who has seen previous ‘The Grudge’ or ‘Ju-On’ instalments are unlikely to find a lot of new material. For what it’s worth, the horror gives you the cheap jump scares you came for and the dull, washed out, sepia-dominant cinematography from DoP Zack Gellar, who stalks and lingers on the film’s victims to smart effect, sets it apart visually.
While it bears the ‘Produced by Sam Raimi’ association, you probably shouldn’t set your hopes high as ‘The Grudge’ is nowhere close to the director’s standard of work. Still, the 2020 horror keeps you invested throughout, and is satisfactorily spine-chilling and macabre while not quite terrifying.