Immediately following the horrifying and convoluted events of The Grudge 2, the prologue for The Grudge 3 begins with Dr. Sullivan (Shawnee Smith, Queen of the SAW Franchise) interviewing Jake, the sole survivor of the haunting in Chicago. Having watched his stepmother murder his entire family, young Jake is understandably unsettled, cowering in a psychiatric hospital, fretting about Kayeko’s ghost, and Dr. Sullivan’s solemn vow (“I promise. I won’t ever let anything bad happen to you.”) does little to assuage his fears. Sure enough, moments after being left alone in his room, Jake is grabbed by a pair of pasty white hands, and a security guard watches on a monitor as Jake is tossed around the hospital room by an invisible force, bounced off the walls and ceiling and tiled floor until “practically every bone in his body is broken”. This, unfortunately, is the best scene of the movie.*
Following the traditionally creepy opening credits sequence, the action moves to the haunted building in Chicago, where apartment manager Max (Gil McKinney, E.R.) is attempting to fill empty units in the wake of the Grudge 2 tragedy. His ailing little sister Rose (Jadie Hobson, showcasing the occasional “reminder wheeze” to prevent the audience from forgetting that she’s ill) requires plenty of medical attention, and his other sister, Lisa (Johanna Braddy; Penny Dreadful), a selfish blonde about to take an internship in New York, isn’t much help. She’d much rather sneak off to one of the empty apartments to get boned by her skeezy boyfriend than actually contribute to their humble little Party of Five-style family. Max’s repeated attempts to make her feel guilty (“Well, I guess since you’re leaving, we won’t be your problem any more, will we?”) make up the majority of their dialogue as siblings, and it makes for some lazy character development.
Before long the Grudge curse starts killing peripheral characters somehow related to the Chicago apartment building. The trio of orphans is confused by the mysterious goings-on, but luckily, Dr. Sullivan shows up for a dour expository scene to catch Lisa up on the events that took place in the first two films. Nakeo, a mysterious new tenant from Japan, suddenly speaks up and announces that she’s the sister of dead Kayako. She expounds on the “soul eating” mythology introduced in part deux with a series of yawn-inducing flashbacks. Sounds like Nakeo is the only person who can stop the Grudge curse forever. But does anybody really care?
Not that The Grudge 2 was anything amazing, but director Takashi Shimizu’s “ghost attack” scenes still packed the same punch that they did in the first film. Comparably, director Toby Wilkins’ (Splinter) scares in The Grudge 3 are sorely lacking in subtlety and confidence. Shot with a grueling, in-your-face aggressiveness, every twitchy movement and throaty growl is exaggerated to the point of burn-out. Wilkins takes the looming scares of Shimizu’s superior efforts and transforms them into jangly dime-store skeletons.
The first two films—with their deliberately placed scares—were carnival rides intended to horrify and amuse, not to provoke thought. Unfortunately, The Grudge 3 attempts to build future interest in the franchise by continuing to develop its lame “soul eater” theme, a move that only alienates viewers that came into the film simply looking for a few cheap scares. With a final 20 minutes uncharacteristically steeped in R-rated gore (the first two films were rated PG-13), watching The Grudge 3 is like eating the generic brand of your favorite cereal; you can try to tell yourself all day that its just as good as the real thing, but inside, deep inside, you know it tastes different.
*The second best scene in the movie is the restaurant scene with Lisa and boyfriend Andy, wherein Andy attempts to sort of make himself cry while discussing their relationship. It’s an unparalleled “B-Movie Acting Moment” that’s worth of a few rewinds.