The Sleepless Movie Review
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Written by Brad Keene and directed by Toby Wilkins
90 Minutes
Rated R for violence, disturbing images and some language.

I'm just gonna throw this out there first: the R rating is clearly neglecting the fact that there is nudity in the film, but I think it's underage nudity, which really just creeps me out on the whole. That may be the scariest part of the movie.

Well, I know you weren't expecting quality after The Grudge 2, but you may not have been expecting a film that sucks this much ass. Takashi Shimizu has yet to make a bad film in Japan, but his American output has been pretty underwhelming, so it's fairly telling that even he didn't sign on for this one. Instead we get Toby Wilkins in the director's chair. As far as screenwriters go, apparently even Stephen Susco wasn't willing to come back...although maybe the studio realized how badly he boned the second film and decided to go with someone new. Either way, none of these changes do us any favors.

The one thing The Grudge 2 had going for it was the genesis of some good ideas for progressing the series, particularly in the way it sort of spreads the curse to America. Of course, The Grudge 3 builds on this in some fairly uninteresting ways. I'm sorry if this review is already getting dull for you, because honestly, the film is God damn boring as fuck.

Let's talk about casting. Marina Sirtis and Shawnee Smith are both actresses I was happy to see here, and while Marina Sirtis got the best death in the film and most of the cast are definitely game with the admittedly not-terrible-but-not-great script, recasting Kayako was a fucking dreadful move. Takako Fuji played Kayako in every other incarnation of The Grudge in the States and overseas, but for The Grudge 3 she's been replaced by Aiko Horiuchi. It's the kind of change realized in the subtleties; Horiuchi's movements are exaggerated and frankly poor mimics of Fuji's creepy, unearthly presence as Kayako in the other films. It's not at all dissimilar to Jason Voorhees as played by Kane Hodder and Jason Voorhees as played by everyone else (Derek Mears' awesome turn in the remake notwithstanding): even if the character is largely a cipher, so much is told in the body language that just like Kane Hodder's sack-of-guts Jason defined the character, so Takako Fuji's wounded gait defines Kayako. Horiuchi just sucks. The recasting of Toshio doesn't bother me as much; Yuya Ozeki's was pretty definitive, but kids don't stay young forever. I just kind of wish they'd cast an actual child instead of a pre-teen in this one.

Of course, all of this would be incumbent on the director giving any kind of a shit about the project, which he doesn't seem all. There are some good shots in the film, but I'd hazard to guess they're the work of either a director looking to add material to his demo reel, or a cinematographer in the same position. It's actually a pretty major disappointment; Wilkins' last film was Splinter, which was fucking awesome, but here he seems to be completely checked out. The Grudge 3 lacks any of the verve or style of his previous film, and he's either woefully unprepared to make the jump from a monster movie to a ghost story, or as I more strongly suspect and asserted earlier, he just doesn't give a shit.

The movie's pretty plot heavy, and without a director interested in the plot, shooting becomes perfunctory and the whole affair looks dull. So what we're left with are the meat and potatoes of a horror film: the scare scenes. These are by and large spectacular failures, with some poor digital effects work in some scenes, but epically highlighted by piss poor lighting and shooting. The makeup for Kayako looks exactly like white makeup painted on an actress. The use of generic coloring - that is, no actual color treatment, just the natural color for everything - exacerbates the problem, rendering the scenes devoid of mood. I mean if I had to hazard a guess, the movie was probably shot with a decent high definition digital video camera, perfectly white-balanced, and no one bothered to color treat any of it or light any of it in a remotely interesting fashion.

It's very hard for me to write this review because whether or not any of the scares really work or not, or whether the screenwriter even tried (he does seem to have), or whether the cast is any good (outside of the new Kayako they're actually just fine), Wilkins failed spectacularly as a director. I could've done a better job with this material. The whole thing has this air of profound disinterest and cashing in, and I blame the shitty direction for sucking the movie dry of any life it may have had.

Ju-on/The Grudge movies were kind of like Mega Man games to me, where I could really give a fuck about quality as long as the horror is handled halfway decently. I love the formula and see no real reason to tamper with it. If you just want to give me more of Kayako and Toshio killing people in crazy-assed ways, fine! Awesome! You'll get at least two stars from me, and I'll buy the damn movie even if as a whole it's not really any good. But isn't it ironic that the first time the formula is really changed - new actress for Kayako, linear plotline, American setting - is the moment the series starts to feel authentically stale?

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.