This is one of those “Don’t go into the house” movies, a remake of a popular Japanese horror film by Takashi Shimizu, the writer/director of the original.
It is again set in Japan, but this time, it is a group of Americans at the center of the film. As a part of her training, an exchange student exchange student (Sarah Michelle Geller as Karen) is sent out as a substitute for the caregiver of a woman suffering from some dementia. The woman is an American, living with her son and daughter-in-law, and with a daughter living nearby. It turns out the house was once the site of great rage and anguish, giving rise to a curse that attacks anyone who enters. The rest of the movie is basically seeing how all of that plays out.
Shimizu makes good use of shifts in time to pull us into what little story there is. The usual ghost activities (messing up the house, stalking people) are updated a little bit. These ghosts can call a cell phone and get from the lobby to the 16th floor very quickly. There are some creepy images and gotcha scares but nothing can disguise the fact that this is just a “who gets it next and how does he get it” movie. Too much of it is familiar, though, from the mysteriously feral child to the backwards-crab-crawling guy looking horrified at some looming presence. You know if a bloody jaw with teeth shows up, eventually we’re going to have to find out where, or should I say who it came from.
Indeed, the biggest problem with the film is that, like many American remakes (Wicker Park is one recent example), feels it has to explain too much. We get a helpful little ghost re-enactment of the whole story. Horror movies are much more horrifying when they leave the explanation to that part of our imagination where our own deepest fears lie, so each of us can feel personally unsettled right where we live.
Parents should know that this is a very scary movie with a great deal of tension, many jump-out-at-you surprises, graphic violence, and frequent grisly and disgusting images, including graphic wounds, suicide, dead bodies and, pieces of dead bodies. Characters also drink and smoke and use strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of ghost stories and their own views on whether strong emotions can continue to “occupy” a place. They might want to take a look at websites like this one and this one to find out more about efforts to investigate real-life reports of ghosts and curses.
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Ju-On: The Grudge and its sequels and some of the other haunted house movies like The House that Dripped Blood, The Haunting, The People Under the Stairs, Poltergeist, and William Castle’s Homicidal, the movie that had a “Coward’s Corner” with a booth set up to provide refunds to people who did not want to see what happened when the character ignored the warning not to go into the house.