Created by Takashi Shimizu, the Japanese-American horror franchise Ju-on or The Grudge has, like the vengeful spirit at the heart of the story, taken many and various forms. What started out as a pair of short films and two straight-to-video releases became a Japanese cinema phenomenon, spawned two US remakes and transitioned into a web series and a video game. Shimizu was involved, to some degree or another, with all of the Ju-on incarnations. But now, with a rebooted sequel that loosely follows on from the events of The Grudge 2, the reins have been passed to writer and director Nicolas Pesce (the fact that it’s titled The Grudge rather than The Grudge 3 is presumably an acknowledgement of a partial reboot). Fresh from his impressively grisly debut, The Eyes of My Mother, and its twisted, transgressive follow-up, Piercing, Pesce would seem to be an ideal choice to breathe fresh life into a stale horror franchise.
In reality, however, there is little that sets this apart from the earlier films. Pesce’s input is evident in the quality of the cast: the consistently excellent Jacki Weaver has a supporting role as an assisted suicide consultant; meanwhile, Andrea Riseborough is terrific as the unflappable cop investigating a series of gruesome deaths. But in terms of the story, it’s business as usual for the relentlessly furious spirit Kayako, although she is rarely glimpsed in her original form in this instalment. The cluttered parallel story structure – the fates of several different individuals over a period of two years are woven together – results in a series of mini-scares rather than a gradual build to a big one. And since we already know the fate of most of them, all the diseased yellow lighting and oppressive sound design in the world can’t engineer much tension.