I have long ago made peace with the fact that I will always be susceptible to the jump scare. Even when I know it is coming and I try to prepapre myself, steeling against the inevitable screech of music and quick cut of film, I always find my body shuddering under the shock.
Often, I have criticised films for their reliance on the jump scare, An American Haunting for example. There are other movies that are just a roller coaster of jumps that I have enjoyed, such as Boogeyman and the original The Grudge. Unfortunately, this sequel pales in comparison to the original.
The Grudge 2 fails to sustain the mood, doesn't deliver the scares, and just has too much plot with too little story. There are three theads that wind through the movie, but they don't come together until the final minutes of the movie, and even then the point of juncture is sketchy at best.
On top of that, the trailers give away something that would have had a lot more impact had it been first seen in the movie itself. I will spare the spoil for those who have been lucky enough not to see the ads, and are still interested in seeing it, but I will say that it is very reminiscent of the opening to Halloween: Resurrection.
The story picks up shortly after the events in the original. A housewife in Chicago has a violent reaction to some aggressive behavior from her husband, while half a world away in Japan, a couple of schoolgirls take a new student to visit the burned out husk of the haunted house from the earlier film, then swings back to the States where Karen's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) estranged sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn), learns of her "accident" and is sent by her sick mother to bring her home. Those three early scenes set the stage for the three story threads.
The script is very sloppily pieced together. It's like they weren't sure what to focus on, so they made the three stories, cut them up and just put them together in some random fashion. The wild focus shifts did not allow me to get drawn into any of them. The problem is that the three stories are never given the time they need to develop, and the tapestry is never formed linking them together in any meaningful pattern.
It is clear what they are hoping to accomplish with this film. The aim is to take this haunted house story and give it a more epic feel. Take the evil killer spirit and free it from the confines of the house. No one cares about a haunted house that was burned up, you need to change the location, mix it up a little, kind of like Kayako Takes Manhattan. That is the ultimate aim of the stories, to give the method and the reason to break free, have the evil attach itself to people, allowing it to move around. They did take it a step further as we start to see other characters return as vengeful pale avatars of the beyond; that didn't seem to make much sense. Then again, there was a lot that did not make all that much sense.
The most successful, and logical story is that of Aubrey. She comes seeking her sister, and in no time at all, is sucked into the horror of Kayako. She is joined by a journalist, Eason (Edison Chen), who is also suffering from having entered the cursed home. This worked the best because Tamblyn's Aubrey is at least a little bit likeable — I actually cared a little about her and what would happen to her. The schoolgirls, I could really care less about them, and don't even get me started on the family in Chicago.
There is nothing that ties all of these things together, and trying to make sense of them is giving me a headache. There are a couple of creepy scenes, sure, but they are hardly enough to save the movie. There is some nice visual flair from director Takashi Shimizu, director of the first and writer/director of the original Japanese movies. He makes good use of the washed out colors that seem to be a staple of J-horror, plus there is some interesting use of angles and odd framing that I liked a lot. I also still like the throaty death rattle that is Kayako's precursor, and the appearances of Kayako and her son, particularly in the classroom and in the dark room.
The Grudge 2 definitely had the seeds to be a better movie. The thought of something in the fire setting the evil free to attach itself to people, allowing it to move is a good one, but the execution was awful. Why did it take three stories to tell it? Why didn't they tie them together a little better earlier on? I can honestly say that by the end, I didn't really care what happened to them. I doubt you will, either.
I have to say that I was very dissatisfied with this, even considering that I kept my expectations low when I went in. I admit to having a little excitement initially as I thought the trailer was one of the creepiest I had seen in a long time. I hoped to have a film filled with jump scares — however, the finished product did not have all that many.
Bottom line. Take the creepiness of the first, toss in some of the epic evil stylings of Pulse and you are headed towards what The Grudge 2 was meant to be. Three angles of attack proved to not be stong enough to bear the overplotting of this sequel. The areas of improvement can be boiled down to one, the script. Once you have a script you have the seeds of a movie — this one was stillborn.