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Movie Review

If everyone would just stay out of haunted houses, I suspect the world would probably be a better—safer—place. At least in movies, anyway.

The nonlinear Grudge 2 weaves together three related but separate stories. Their common ground: A haunted house in Tokyo indwelt by the vengeful spirits of a woman and her son who were brutally murdered there by the woman's husband. Anyone who visits the house automatically ends up on those spirits' haunting list—and inevitably die as these ghoulish specters yank their unwilling victims into the netherworld to be with them.

Story 1: Aubrey Davis, the younger sister of The Grudge's protagonist, Karen Davis, is tasked by their mother to travel to Tokyo to bring Karen home. Following the events of the first film, Karen is hospitalized—and still haunted. Aubrey has barely arrived in Japan when the wicked spirits fling her sister from the hospital rooftop. The landing does not go well for her. And little sis is determined to find out why she really died. A young investigative journalist named Eason is equally set on getting some answers, and together the pair risks the spirits' ire to uncover the truth.

Story 2: Popular Tokyo high school girls Vanessa and Miyuki initiate a new girl (Allison) into their clique by taking her to the haunted house, which they've visited before. It's just a scary gag—until all three begin to experience the terrifying torments of the spirits residing there. Dark glimpses of the furtive spirit beings are just the beginning of their troubles.

Story 3: Everything seems to be going swimmingly for a blended family in Chicago. Kids Lacey and Jake are getting used to their new stepmom (or Dad's new girlfriend, it's never really clear), Trish. But then things start to get, well, weird. Jake keeps hearing thumping noises from the apartment next door. (And thumping noises in the wall are a universally bad thing in horror movies.) Increasingly, family members and other residents in the apartment building begin acting psychotically. For instance, Mom dumps hot grease on Dad's head, then mortally whacks him in said noggin with a frying pan. Chicago is a long way from Tokyo, but inevitably we learn how the spiritual malevolence in one city is related to violent events in the other.

If this synopsis feels a bit choppy and disjointed, consider it representative of the film, which jumps back and forth between the stories we naturally assume are happening simultaneously. Links between them seem tentative until a last-minute revelation (that would do M. Night Shyamalan proud) fills in the chronological connections between the characters' encounters with supernatural evil.

Positive Elements

Aubrey's loyalty to her sister's memory, as well as her desire to learn the truth about what happened to her, are both commendable. We also discover that Aubrey's relationship with Karen had been a rocky one, and that the pair's last encounter had ended in unresolved conflict. Aubrey tells Eason how much she now regrets being estranged from her older sister. Only after Karen's untimely death was she able to see how important that relationship really was. Thus, the film demonstrates the importance of family relationships and dealing with relational problems.

Another important sibling relationship in the movie is the one between young Jake, who's perhaps 8 or 9 years old, and his teenage sister, Lacey. She seeks to comfort him when he becomes increasingly fearful of the strange events occurring in their building.

Spiritual Content

The animistic idea that the dead can haunt the living can be found in a variety of cultures. The Grudge 2 takes things a step further, however, in that the dead have the ability to kill the living—either by getting their victims to kill themselves or each other (via possession), or simply by dragging people wholly into the spirit world.

In most horror movies of this type—and they are legion—the protagonists scramble to find some secret weapon to resist the entities' power or some key that will restore the tormented spirits' souls to peace. This movie seems to be going down that track as Aubrey seeks out an elderly exorcist in a rural area.

[Spoiler Warning] But to Aubrey's horror, the exorcist tells her that nothing can be done to resist the evil that these spirits are propagating. Aubrey also learns that the murdered woman who's doing the haunting was the exorcist's daughter, and that the older woman used to "feed" the spirits she'd exorcised from others to her helpless child. A flashback shows an exorcism and a drop of blood being placed on the daughter's tongue. The old woman's explanation for her daughter's afterlife behavior? She wants others to experience the suffering that she went through.

In the film's final minutes, its worldview gets even darker as we learn that each of the characters who've been killed are now similarly haunting—and perhaps even killing others.

Sexual Content

Teenage vixens Vanessa and Miyuki coach innocent Allison how to dress more provocatively by rolling up the top of her skirt, thus shortening it. Miyuki apparently has a sexual relationship with her boyfriend (which Vanessa comments on, calling the pair "adventurous"). Miyuki and her beau check into a hotel ("Hotel Sweet Kiss") for the express purpose of a sexual tryst. As he showers in preparation (we see his bare torso), Miyuki picks up what appears to be a condom in the bedroom and makes a face before setting it down, perhaps suggesting she's less gung ho about sex than she wants others to believe. (Miyuki is snatched away by a spirit before the pair can indulge.)

Another shower scene takes place in the girls' locker room, where Vanessa's shoulders are shown. Other girls' legs can be seen below shower curtains, and several of them are seen in their underwear or just towels. Trish wears a cleavage-baring top, and Lacey a midriff-exposing cheerleading outfit.

Violent Content

As was the case in The Grudge, jump scenes greatly outnumber graphically violent imagery in this sequel. The film frequently implies that the spirits have claimed another victim without actually showing it. What is shown is that the spirits of the mother and son can seemingly materialize virtually anywhere at will, though their presence is sometimes preceded by ominous rumblings. Disconcerting camera shots reveal parts of their bodies (which are a ghostly blue), such as eyes, feet, hands—and especially jet black hair—sometimes before anyone onscreen can see them. I don't have much hair, but what little I do have often stood on end in these spooky, creepy scenes.

The Grudge 2 is not without some viscerally violent moments, however. One of these is Karen's plunge from the hospital rooftop. We don't witness her impact, but we hear it and see her corpse surrounded by a growing pool of blood. Likewise, we hear Trish pour the hot bacon grease, then hear the impact of the frying pan. Later we glimpse the resulting dead body and the bloody wound. Another character's neck is broken by a spirit; we hear it, then see her body on the ground with blood trickling out of her mouth.

A reenactment of the original murder of the woman and her son shows an angry husband pulling his wife's hair and throwing her around (and throwing the family cat around too) and implies that he drowned his son. A character is shown draped over a bathtub after drowning herself. Hands pull Trish under the bathtub water as well. Another character, under the influence of the spirits, squeezes his keys until blood drips from his hand. Spirits grab several people and simply pull them into the land of the dead.

Crude or Profane Language

About half-a-dozen profanities in all. The worst is one use of "g--d--n." "H---" and "p---ed" are also said.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Aubrey and Eason visit a folklore expert who smokes a cigarette.

Other Negative Elements

A disturbing scene shows a resident of the Chicago apartment building gulping down a half-gallon of milk, then regurgitating all of it back into the container.


Like other reimaginings of Eastern scare-flicks such as The Ring, The Ring Two and Dark Water, the Grudge movies are fascinated with the idea of tormented spirits wreaking their revenge upon the living. Having died horrible, tragic deaths, they now exact their fury upon innocents in a never-ending chain of violence.

Whereas American horror films often pick targets who have some obvious moral flaw, and hence supposedly "deserve" what they get, Japanese horror recognizes little correlation between what someone has done and whether they're a victim or not. Equally un-American are this film's nonlinear storytelling and decidedly dreary ending. Though happy endings are not the staple they used to be in American cinema (in horror, especially), we still expect the good guys to crack the code, to figure it out and somehow redeem the wretched events that have occurred. But there's none of that in The Grudge 2. [Spoiler Warning] Not only are all the major characters killed, we learn that those we've empathized with have now joined this growing spirit army themselves, and are perhaps similarly cruel.

Near the conclusion the doomed old exorcist sums up the film's message: "It will not stop. It will grow and destroy everything that it touches. There's no end to what it's started." In a nutshell, then, the film teaches that there are evil spirits, they can kill us, and there's nothing we can do to resist them. Hope and redemption have left the dark building these spirits inhabit—not to mention the script of The Grudge 2.

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Amber Tamblyn as Aubrey Davis; Sarah Michelle Gellar as Karen Davis; Edison Chen as Eason; Arielle Kebbel as Allison; Teresa Palmer as Vanessa; Misako Uno as Miyuki; Jennifer Beals as Trish; Sarah Roemer as Lacey; Matthew Knight as Jake


Takashi Shimizu ( )


Columbia Pictures



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Adam R. Holz

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