Mainstream horror, in my opinion, is currently going through one of the worst creative droughts since the 90's. Over the past twelve months, genre fans have been subjected to one low-budget, direct-to-video sequel after another as shady producers and opportunistic studios attempt to cash in on previous successes. What's worse, there's much more on the way, including "The Skeleton Key 2," "Messengers 2: The Scarecrow," and, sadly, "Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever." And as long as we keep shelling out our hard-earned entertainment dollars to watch these cinematic abortions, the proverbial machine is going to keep churning them out at break-neck speeds. So much for integrity.
Out all the companies looking to grab and greedily consume a piece of your delicious money-dipped pie, I never thought Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures would be among them. Their latest release, director Toby Wilkins' 2009 haunted apartment yarn "The Grudge 3," is exactly what you'd expect from a sequel that never made it into theaters. In other words, it's cheap, it's poorly written, and it all but defecates directly on the original film. Instead of sticking to what works, regardless of how cryptic or hard-to-follow that formula may be, Wilkins delivers a straightforward, fully Americanized follow-up that will mostly appeal to large groups of teenage girls who need something light and disposable for their next super-fun sleepover. Needless to say, I'm rather disappointed, as I was definitely a fan of "Splinter."
The latest installment in this increasingly monotonous series picks up immediately where the second effort ended. Since nobody in their right mind enjoys living in an apartment complex where a series of baffling murders took place, the residents of said establishment are quickly abandoning ship, leaving struggling property manager Max (Gil McKinney) to deal with the ensuing financial aftermath.
Also resting on his less-than-capable shoulders is the overall well-being of his kid sister Rose, who suffers from some sort of breathing disorder that requires lots of medication, constant attention, and, occasionally, the use of an oxygen mask. His plight wouldn't be nearly as stressful if his other sister, would-be fashion designer Lisa (Johanna Braddy), wasn't traipsing off to New York to chase her dreams.
If all of this melodrama wasn't enough, there's also that pesky Japanese-born curse to contend with. Supernatural contortionist Kayako and the ever-mewling Toshio are still lurking within the building, picking off those stubborn tenants who have yet to pack their bags and head for less ghostly surroundings. After a substantial body count has been accrued, we learn a few interesting slivers of information regarding Kayako’s past and discover that the curse can, in theory, be stopped. Naturally, the finale is left wide open for another sequel that will more than likely materialize before Shimizu’s own scheduled follow-up creeps its way onto American shores.
Working from a script by “From Within” scribe Brad Keene, Wilkins bravely attempts to stretch this admittedly thin concept in slightly different direction. Instead of employing the same non-linear storytelling device utilized by Shimizu, Keene and Wilkins present their familiar tale of otherworldly revenge in a straightforward fashion, a decision which inevitably feels like cinematic hand-holding.
Were the other entries in the franchise that hard to follow? Not from where I’m sitting, but apparently someone associated with the production, be it writer, director, or producer, felt the need to dumb the formula down a bit for the straight-to-video market. As a result, the subtle touches that made the originals so intriguing are non-existent. After all, we wouldn’t want to scramble the moronic brains of those who generally flock to this sort of uninspired tripe.
The actors, including “Saw” girl Shawnee Smith, are wholly unremarkable, though I suspect this is probably due to Keene’s lackluster script than their ability to read lines. For this particular outing, Aiko Horiuchi has stepped in to play the role of the iconic Kayako, a part that was previously inhabited by Takako Fuji. Truth be told, I had no idea the character had been recast until I took a quick look at the picture’s IMDb page. Horiuchi does a fine job despite the fact that all of her scenes are either out-of-focus or edited to the point of total incoherence. Toshio, on the other hand, should have been handled by someone a tad younger than Shimba Tsuchiya. Unless ghosts age, which isn’t entirely improbable, I suppose.
“The Grudge 3,” despite its many glaring problems, could have been much, much worse. Then again, had it been approached by a filmmaker who wasn’t treating the picture as nothing more than a paycheck, it could have been a hell of a lot stronger. Unless someone with a distinct creative vision wants to completely overhaul the Stateside version of this simplistic franchise, the only person who should consider another entry is the creator himself, Takashi Shimizu.
More importantly, if Hollywood continues to vomit these cheap sequels onto the unsuspecting public, discerning film fans are going to take their business elsewhere. Like “The Cell 2” and the other pointless productions looming on the horizon, “The Grudge 3” is lazy, derivative filmmaking at its lowest. Perhaps its time Kayako and Toshio were laid to rest. Permanently.