Ju-On review by The Grim Ringler

Ok, it’s already been established that I am a huge horror movie nerd, right? We got that out of the way. And I am far from easy to spook when it comes to watching a fright fest, I mean, when I was a kid and saw Friday the 13th (at age 6), that wigged me out a bit, though it mighta been that the men’s stalls in the bathroom had no doors. And The Thing wigged me out when I saw it, as did The Blair Witch Project, but I am pretty jaded otherwise. Well, consider me spooked. Ju-On is one of the creepiest damned movies I have seen in a while, and that’s saying a lot.

Essentially a ghost story, Ju-On (The Grudge) tells four interconnected stories that are all tied to the same house and the events that happened there. The first story sets the stage for the rest of the film, showing a teacher who, concerned with the whereabouts of his missing student, tracks the boy down to his home where he finds the child dirty and malnourished and all alone. Fearing the worst, the teacher scours the house for the boy’s mother and father but what he finds only serves to deepen the mystery as, in a darkened workroom the father had used he finds the mother’s diary in which she had cast the teacher as the real father of her child. Fearing the worst the teacher searches the attic space in the room and finds the mother dead, wrapped in plastic, obviously the work of the father. The teacher grabs the boy to flee but as they are about to leave the phone rings, the father calling to tell the teacher what else he has been up to as the dead mother pulls herself from the attic and down to capture this man she is obsessed with.

The second and third stories simply show what happens to the family that moves into the house next and how the blood curse of the house (the grudge) begins all over again, swallowing each member of the family until none are left. The last part of the film deals with the man who must sell the house now that the rumors and ghost stories are out about it and those who had dwelt, enlisting the help of his psychic sister to find an end to the grudge. If an end even exists.

The film is very much like watching an Italian horror film in that it’s very dream-like. The timeline bounces around an awful lot and it’s sometimes hard to follow completely what is going on. And hell, I am a veteran of these kind of movies by now. The thing that Asian (and Italian) horror films, especially supernatural ones do that Westerners have a hard time with is they work more on mood than on story. The story is there but it isn’t as clearly drawn as we Westerners are used to. They leave out the details because they want to nail the atmosphere, not necessarily the - who, what, where, why. For ‘them’ it’s all about the dark and stormy house, and for ‘us’ it’s all about what happened in that house. But that being said, this is a very scary, very startling ghost story. The film begins slowly, making you wonder if it will even get to the spooky stuff at all but then suddenly things begin to happen in the background that you have to watch for that are there to keep you off balance and on edge. And when the film actually gets going it’s hard to keep still with what begins to happen (example – a girl goes to a school looking for her friend, who is nowhere to be seen. A teacher tells her to wait in a room while she searches for him, but as she waits, alone, something turns up in the room with her, running behind her and where she cannot see until she is trapped beneath a table with the ‘thing’ atop the table jumping back and forth on it – EEK!). You are left with your mouth agape wondering if what you saw happen really happened, shuddering at the thought of something crawling down stairs towards you, still wrapped in its death shroud. I think it’s the dreamy quality that actually makes this movie so effective. That it is so disjointed and odd keeps you off guard and never expecting what is to come, and the manifestations of spirits in the film (of which there are several) are so sudden and macabre that it really causes you to shudder upon seeing them.

The film has its flaws, for sure, but they are inherent in this form of Asian horror. The quality that makes it so scary is also it’s most damning aspect – that it is so disjointed and dreamy. A lot of people will give up on it as soon as they get a bit confused, which would be a shame since this is really one of the scariest movies I have seen in a while. And heck, it isn’t even very long – 70 mins – so it moves pretty fast for a ghost story.

I am not sure you can track this movie down as it’s another Asian horror film that hasn’t been released over here – damn them all! – but word has it Sam Raiami is going to have the same director remake the film over here for us. And in Asia a sequel is going to be released in late summer (’03). I am hoping that with a remake in the works this will make its way over to us eventually as it’s a shame that films like this don’t really see the light of day on our shores.

Ju-On is a wonderfully done ghost story that will truly chill you to the bone should you be lucky enough to happen upon this gem. And from the looks of the trailer for the sequel, Ju-On 2 could easily beat the first for chill factor.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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