Review: The Grudge (2020) – Emotional Torture Porn

Andrea-Riseborough-in-The-Grudge-2020-j-1024x457
Andrea Riseborough in The Grudge 

When The Grudge was remade for an American audience back in 2004 it paled in comparison to its Japanese counterpart but it proved to have grit through a message of the transferable effects of trauma. A less successful sequel followed and the franchise drifted off until it was unnecessarily revitalised this year with a film that seems intent on creating pain for the sake of entertainment, not for any reason outside of titillation. Gone is the sensitivity towards characters who are clearly wounded, these people are exploited in a film that is structurally incoherent and diabolically paced.

Following police detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) who after a tragic loss moves to a new town with her son Burke (John J Hansen). The first case she gets is the mysterious death that leads her to a house with a murderous past and as she investigates closer she is haunted by visions of the people who have fallen victim to the force that has infected the house and the community around it.

While most conventional horror films try to use a conventional mystery plot to space out the revelations or scares, The Grudge jumps around through time based on a moments severity. Building up from the gruesome sight of a rotting corpse, the film escalates by looking back, never moving forward. Not only does Muldoon feel like a plot device, used to wake the dead, but her grief is marginalised by demoting it to the role of ‘just another haunting’. Director Nicholas Pesce, who also crafted the film’s story, piles on the emotional pain for not just Muldoon but the assortment of victims he has accumulated. The key theme here is distress, not anything workable. Seeing these people in pain isn’t pleasant and with no actual growth or understanding to be found, it proves to be crude and indifferent.

Despite a clear eye for religious imagery and some interesting yet garden-variety moments of dread, Pesce has crafted a film with a standout cast with very little to do. The closest it comes to involving is when Muldoon comes across the case of Peter (John Cho) and Nina Spencer (Betty Gilpin), a family reeling from the fact their unborn child has a rare disease. Their story feels different from the cut and dry hauntings thrown our way and Gilpin is impressive given her limited screentime. Their tragedy feels important and the knowledge of their fate feels superfluous to a smartly constructed story. In fact, it seems this is often the problem with this vignette, built film as we are presented chapters in stories that need room to breathe before they build to the idea of a spirit accentuating their pain.

Without sufficient context or some kind of understanding gaze, all you really end up with is a series of micro tales designed to be debilitating and damaging while never linking back to Muldoon’s own suffering. The Grudge feels like emotional torture porn, along with a few moments of actual torture porn. While it is alright to put your characters through the wringer, it’s another thing to enjoy doing it.

TSR

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