Category Archives: 2020s

The Grudge (2020)

*. Much better than I thought it was going to be. Of course I was expecting it to be terrible given how badly it was panned by reviewers, but even so.
*. But first off: what exactly is it? The original intention was to make a sequel to the American Grudge franchise but The Grudge 3 had done poorly and then the project got stuck in development for a decade, so by the time they got the wheels rolling again the idea was to do a “sidequel.” This is an ugly, terrible word that apparently just means spin-off.
*. So the first few minutes here present us with a passing of the baton from Kayako to the woman who will become her American avatar, Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood). The actual curse and haunted house in this movie will be related to the original, but effectively they’re starting out a new franchise. Albeit one that operates in pretty much the exact same way as the old. A gloomy little boy is replaced by Wednesday Addams.
*. This all seems kind of awkward to me, but I’m not sure how else they could have played things and still have this be a Grudge film. They had to get out of Japan somehow and this is the kludge they came up with.
*. It’s now a J-horror movie with American characteristics. Because the main protagonist is a cop we see more guns, even if they don’t have any use. There’s also more of a sense of can-do as far as fighting the ghosts goes. Depending on which ending you watch the hero may even be successful in defeating the curse. At least she gets to burn the house down.
*. Though if you really want to burn a house down, would you just take a jerry can of gasoline and start splashing it around the front hall and up the stairs? Is that the best way to do it? Wouldn’t you try to start it in a particular place where there was a lot of fuel (that is, something in the house that’s likely to burn)?
*. Nicolas Pesce must have seemed like an obvious choice to direct, a horror up-and-comer after The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing, movies that had been clearly influenced by J-horror. On the other hand, Pesce’s self-defined wheelhouse is cultish, alternative fare so he might not have been the right person to tab for a franchise instalment.

*. In any event, what surprises me here is that the scary parts (aside from the few jump scares, which I liked) are the weakest. Maybe it’s the CGI flies. CGI doesn’t do flies well (see my notes on The Haunting of Sharon Tate). Or maybe it’s the way the odd splashes of violence seem sort of anti-climactic. Poor Lin Shaye, after hunting all those ghosts in the Insidious franchise, just whacking her head on a handrail in a stairwell on the way down. Brutal sure, but scary? Or cutting her fingers off? Well, does she suffer from dementia or not?
*. What saves the movie for me are the two leads. I’d seen Andrea Riseborough in a few other things, but she’d never registered much outside of Oblivion. She should have stood out in Mandy, but didn’t (at least for me). But here she’s great as a haunted single-mom, basically carrying the whole movie on her shoulders. Demián Bichir is like some kind of gruff alien only doing Earth patrols. He should be ridiculous but somehow he fits with the sodium-lit surroundings. With his character’s obvious distaste for a routine of showering and shaving, and Muldoon’s dirty blonde mousey-do, tats, and general appearance of emaciation, you get the sense they were trying out for a season of True Detective: Ghost Protocol.
*. Riseborough and Bichir make the film watchable, and there are moments that aren’t half bad. I definitely thought it better than it was made out to be by critics. But in the end it’s still too creaky with bits and pieces that don’t fit together, a problem that goes back to the question of exactly what sort of a movie it wanted to be. Remake? Reboot? Sequel? No, “sidequel.” So a little bit of everything. Even a bit at the end (of the American release version) that is a straight steal from Dark Water. Why? I guess they wanted more J-horror in there somehow.
*. It felt to me like they just weren’t sure what they were doing. A feeling reinforced by the fact that the movie was actually released with different endings. What they wound up with is neither fish nor fowl, but a domestic-international hybrid that thrashes around for a while before fizzling out. I’m hoping this is the end.

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

*. I actually liked The Boy, at least more than I had expected I would, but I didn’t think they’d be making another. Though, as I said in my notes, the ending left at least the theoretical possibility of a sequel. I just didn’t think there was any real demand for it, as the box office return hadn’t been great.
*. Well, I guess someone crunched the numbers and so here we are. Or maybe they looked at the money train Annabelle had turned into and figured they wanted some of that cheddar. That seems more likely given how Brahms (the doll) is given a whole new back story or mythology here that suggests he’s ready to be franchised. In the original, as you’ll recall, the doll was nothing special and the evil force was just a crazy guy with a burned face who lived in the walls of the mansion. In this movie, however, it turns out that the doll really is an evil spirit. Or something.
*. I’ve talked a lot in these notes about the role expectations play in our response to any movie. Since I’m also a contrarian by nature a lot of hype usually leads to a let-down for me, but I just as frequently find something good even in a movie that bombed or was panned. In the case of Brahms, however, I have to say that it’s just as lousy as advertised.
*. The same writer-director team (Stacey Menear and William Brent Bell, respectively) reunited for this one, and they at least had a decent, if unremarkable, initial premise. A boy and his mother, both traumatized by a home break-in, move with their father to a place out in the country. Specifically the guest house on the massive estate that was the haunted mansion in The Boy. There the son, Jude (Christopher Convery, whose hairdo was making me feel ill), digs up the Brahms doll, which then proceeds to possess him.
*. That might have worked, but it goes nowhere here, despite a game performance by Katie Holmes as the mother, Liza. The problem is, there are just no new ideas in all this. The big twist I already mentioned, that Brahms really is demonic, is itself only a swerve that’s taken to make him more marketable.
*. But here’s the problem: if you’d seen The Boy (and if you hadn’t I don’t know why you’d be watching this) then you’d be assuming the “real” Brahms was still the one behind everything and that little things like Brahms turning his head were all Liza’s imagination. So there’s none of that “is he, or isn’t he?” vibe going on. Then, when we do get to the end, it comes totally out of left field and it seems like everyone (the producers included) has gone insane. Reading some of the reviews I wasn’t surprised to find myself with plenty of company in thinking some kind of horror-parody was intended. But no such luck.
*. No suspense. A flat, clichéd manner. A handful of cheap jump scares. It all adds up to a boring cash grab of a sequel that I don’t think anyone really wanted. Given how badly it flopped one hopes this will be the end.