Ju-On (The Grudge)

Filled with wildly-disturbing imagery that will mess you up from its chiaroscuric opening flicker, ghost horror’s thickest atmospherics in slow-burning majesty, & one of 2000’s most fascinating, complex, and avant-garde plot structures. 9.1/10.

Plot Synopsis: Takashi Shimizu’s movie continues Asia’s increasingly fine tradition of modern horror films. The premise is that if a building has endured a singular horror, it absorbs it and returns it to those who visit. A series of seemingly unconnected vignettes, all with a suitably satisfying jolt (including a shower scene Hitchcock would have admired) are slowly pulled together by police investigating the strange events.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review: The Grudge. Ju-On. Onryō. For anyone without their Japenese dictionary/translator, all that means one thing they’ve probably still heard of by the ubiquity of the franchise now: the ultimate ghost and haunted house story. Foundationally-twisted with some of the most disturbing imagery and unsettling macabre I can pin to a franchise, where did the white-faced, black-eyed soulless stalking start? Tracing its roots back from the middling American versions, we get to the J-horror original – and it is not only the best in the series but one of the best entires in 2000’s horror. Filled with wildly-disturbing imagery that will mess you up from its chiaroscuric opening flicker, ghost horror’s thickest atmospherics in slow-burning majesty, & one of 2000’s most intriguing, complex avant-garde plot structures culturally-authentically twisting symbolism and conventions, Ju-On is J-Horror at its peak scariness.

The disturbing imagery that will *mess you up*. What’s easily Ju-On and The Grudge series’ greatest achievement is the blood-curdling imagery that will send chills up your spine. Simply getting a peripheral glance at its pale white, soulless, blank eyed Toshio or Kayako feeling like they’re staring into the black part of your soul is enough to make you agitatedly unsettled & bleakly freaked-out as white as them thanks to its second-to-none make-up design horror mavens could write dissertations adequately expressing its brilliance. From the film’s very opening chiaroscuric flicker, we see cannibalistic rage, murder, a cat’s necks snapped like a twig, and blood everywhere letting us know we’re in for a wild ride of imagery so dark – it feels positively unholy. This demonic macabre is the greatest I’ve seen since The Exorcist, and I do NOT take that statement likely twisting classically-Japanese hyperclean locations infecting it with the ultimate unpurity also culturally-based for authenticity in onryō spreading its curse to anyone like a disease with the most brutal supernatural stalking horror as the symptoms.

This horror doesn’t come at you with cheap jump scares dumbed down to numb modern audiences – it lurks in the shadows and follows you such that you have no idea when it’s going to strike in the most clever genre ways possible like the phenomenal shower, under-the-covers, shrine twisting even sacred religious imagery with things like severed heads, and sleeping with someone above watching or through the windows scares that has near-ruined even these human-necessity tasks for anyone who watched it. The unpredictability mixed with fresh, uncharacteristic horror backdrops almost all in the light and places far from the annals of American horror, ghastly pure-ghost appearance watching you with devilish intentions, and ultimate haunted house storyline that follows you outside the house too wherein anyone who ever even stepped foot in that forbidden home meets a grisly, brutal fate all convalesces together for simply one of the most disturbing, unsettling, SCARIEST slow-burn masterpieces likely of the 21st century.

Extreme complexity in plot structure for a mystifying experience as unpredictable as it is avant-garde. Beyond the fact that the original Grudge is culturally-authentic – not the whitewashed subpar American version that followed – it also feels wildly unique in how different and bizarre it is structurally. Exposing the story through overlapping vignettes from seemly completely-separate time periods or character groups all juxtaposed harshly against each other is one of the strangest but most fantastic decisions by master-puppeteer Takashi Shimizu. This is far from the white-bread, linear, everything-makes-sense-with-little/no-effort storytelling we’re usually fed on a spoon in U.S. blockbusters – but an avant-garde, arthouse way of unconventionally-unraveling a story that at first glance may be random and longitudinous but actually starts to make sense once you dissect and sit down to analyze and piece together the intricate puzzle standing as one of the most complex plot constructions in the history of modern horror. This TV series-meets-filmic portfolio is brought to life by masterpiece horror atmospherics so thick you could cut them with a knife, phenomenal direction and control over the descent by Shimizu, unparalleled macabre in imagery amongst the darkest I’ve ever witnessed in-genre, and a rattling, primal-groaning, synthy score for a definitive J-Horror scarefest the most haunting and endearing I’ve ever seen.

Flaws. Admittedly, the acting is subpar in parts (particularly the opening) I wish was as top-notch and haunting as Toshio and Kayako’s demonic presence simply blood-curdling to even get a mere glimpse of. The effects are also student-filmic in the shadow monster, etc. – but hey, it’s a string-budget Japanese B-movie and you have to give it some passes for that in what’s otherwise one of the scariest movies of the 2000’s.

Overall, Ju-On is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Filled with wildly-disturbing imagery that will mess you up from its chiaroscuric opening flicker, ghost horror’s thickest atmospherics in slow-burning majesty, & one of 2000’s most intriguing, complex avant-garde plot structures culturally-authentically twisting symbolism and conventions, its white-faced black-eyed soulless watching-you unpredictability and experiementality throw it into the stratosphere as one of my favorite and the most advanced ghost stories ever told.

Official CLC Score: 9.1/10