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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Movie review: The Grudge **

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sarah Michelle Gellar hates us. Hates you. Hates puppies. How does one explain why she would would make her fans suffer this way? As TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she brought a genuine teenage intelligence and confusion and even laziness to that age-old job of staking Dracula.

As an adult on the big screen, she's become curiously generic, muted. I know it's not very progressive to suggest that an actor stay in one role for the rest of her life, as if she were a veteran of Star Trek or something, but with a good case can be made for Buffy Attends Tuesday Night Pilates, Buffy Attends Book Club.

Pardon the ugly vitriol.

It's entirely appropriate for The Grudge, in which ghosts are not merely malevolent spirits with a bone to pick with the living, but enormous loser protoplasm with nothing better to do than stalk Tokyo city dwellers who have nothing to do with the reasons they are ghosts in the first place.

We understand, thanks to titles, that curses haunt places and the people who live in those places. But why then are the people who visit haunted at home? And why are the people who know people who are haunted also haunted in turn? We never quite understand the rules; which, to me, has always been the fun with ghosts.

As for Sarah Michelle, she plays a young exchange student in Japan who finds herself cursed by a haunted house, and her default reaction is to regard everything - the answering machine, the cat, the lamp - as if it has teeth. She moves very slow, peering around corners ever so carefully. And everyone scary she encounters has two modes: either catatonic and lethargic, or catatonic and lethargic and then they spring and open their mouths in some silent scream and flash dark deer-in-headlights peepers. None of that should sound new, although the film has the measured pace and cold bluish glow we now associate with quality fright fests.

What's going on, though, is the replacing of one set of cliches with another, classier set. In an intriguing twist on the Hollywoodization of a foreign film, both The Grudge and its 2003 Japanese original were made by the same director, Takashi Shimizu. Turns out the gesture is nice, but empty. The problem with the new Grudge is the same with the old: Once Shimizu establishes his ghouls, he's content to merely let them do their thing, without a clear narrative - a style not far from more banal slasher flicks.

In fact, in the original, he gave each victim their own chapter, but something smells fishy, and that smell is The Ring, the gold standard of modern Japanese horror, remade in this country with great effectiveness.

They share a patience, antiseptic look, and fascination with viral horror, transmitted victim to victim. They both also get mileage from scratchy old VCR images. And so I propose a sequel: The killer video from The Ring takes on the killer video from The Grudge.

And the winner is DVD.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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