'The Grudge' has a familiar ring to it

A Japanese house makes a fine setting for a horror film.

There are so few barriers in such tight quarters, just a few sliding glass doors and paper-thin walls -- not even a bed to hide under.

This is especially the case when one of the rooms features a closet sealed shut with masking tape that has screeching sounds emanating from behind it.

Yes, there is plenty of eerie atmosphere in "The Grudge." Sadly, when it comes to creative inspiration, no one is home.

Takashi Shimizu, the original writer-director of "Ju-on" and the three other movies it spawned, is given the opportunity to adapt his own film for Western audiences. The result is a slow, derivative piece that owes more to 2002's "The Ring" than it does to Shimizu's previous Japanese-language projects.

Like Gore Verbinski's masterful "Ring," "The Grudge" has a plot that finds people being picked off by an unseen presence. It also features a mystery involving a threatening videotape, distorted images on TV, a freakish kid and a jittery female zombie with black hair that veils her face.

Despite these comparisons, the outcome is more dull than scary.

"When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born," the film's intro explains.


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Sarah Michelle Gellar portrays a nursing student living in Japan who stumbles upon a dark secret in "The Grudge."

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an American exchange student living in Tokyo who is fulfilling her course load by working at a care center. When she is sent to assist an invalid (Grace Zabriskie) at her new house, she discovers the woman's family has vanished.

Before long, each person who has been exposed to the house is shown being terrorized by the malicious ghosts who still haunt the place.

The best thing that can be said about "The Grudge" is that its structure is interesting. It definitely belongs to the Quentin Tarantino school of jumping narrative, with flashbacks and present time being constantly interchanged. For as much as the movie relies on this mode, it's still quite easy to follow. The ending is especially clever in this regard, when two major characters who seem isolated by time and circumstance are allowed to "meet."

This element prevents the film from being a total snoozer.


Grudge * 1/2


Takashi Shimizu remakes his horror movie "Ju-on" for Western audiences. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an exchange student in Japan who stumbles upon a cursed house, a threatening videotape, a freakish kid and a female zombie with black hair that veils her face. Sound like "The Ring?" Yes, but like a duller, less scary version.

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A stronger cast might have helped matters. While "The Ring" had Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts to anchor its bizarre plot, "The Grudge" relies on Gellar. Regardless of the rabid TV fan base she's developed from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the "Scooby-Doo" star has yet to give a distinguished performance in a feature film.

In "The Grudge" she is matched in lethargy only by Jason Behr, who plays her American boyfriend with the same type of conviction one would find from a frat guy shopping for Hoobastank CDs.

This thespian duo proves that when you multiply zero by two, it still equals zero.

It's not enough for a horror flick to merely have a few grab-your-chair shocks or sinister images (i.e. a shot in an ascending elevator where the victim doesn't see what is waiting for her at each floor). The characters have to evoke sympathy. The central mystery must remain compelling. The material needs to be able to keep an audience both scared and involved.

"The Grudge" often struggles to keep the viewer awake.


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