Grudge packs the scares

Every year around this time, thrill-seeking audiences search for a movie that is the perfect mixture of startles and scares. The Grudge is almost there. At times the film can be meandering and slow, but it has enough energy to carry the story along until the very end.

In the first few seconds of The Grudge, the audience sees Bill Pullman brooding on the balcony of his apartment as a beautiful woman awakens. She is clearly his beloved, and is therefore a little more than upset as he tumbles over the railing. The rest of the movie works to weave seemingly unrelated strands of story together until everything almost makes sense.

With a quick shot of Pullman’s mangled body smashed into the pavement, it’s clear that gore will be present, but just enough to warrant its PG-13 rating — a small puddle of blood surrounds his head, but the rest of the area around the corpse is relatively clean.

The premise of the film is quickly revealed: if someone dies in a rage, a curse will descend upon the land and embark upon a murder spree. Flashbacks show the results of the curse and give information that weaves the story together until the end. While the flashback element can be distracting, everything begins to fit together after the first third of the movie.

The Grudge is set in Japan, but the cast is made primarily of American television stars. Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is billed as the star, but it quickly becomes clear that this is an ensemble piece. Gellar’s performance never dominates the screen. Jason Behr (Roswell) blends in even more as Gellar’s boyfriend.

On the other hand, Clea Duvall and William Mapother play an American couple that isn’t doing that great. As Susan and Matthew Williams, they are having trouble taking care of Matthew’s ailing mother and assimilating into Japanese society. They play their roles with a quiet detachment. It often seems that the supernatural force behind the curse is playing a game of “get the Americans,” which is what makes this movie work.

Fans of Japanese cinema will be delighted to know that the director of Ju-on, Takashi Shimizu, is also the director of the American version. His leadership results in a finished product that is quite different from most American movies. The suspense builds without mounds of intestines piling up or a woman in underwear running herself into a corner.

Another thing that sets The Grudge apart from many other mainstream horror flicks is the fact that Sam Raimi (director of Evil Dead) is involved as the executive producer. Fans of Raimi know that he always has something interesting to add to his projects. In this case it is his brother, Ted Raimi (Xena: Warrior Princess).

Between scares, The Grudge can get a little boring, and the characters never quite become real.

However, as a horror film, The Grudge is at the top of its game. There are plenty of well-constructed scares to keep things moving.