August 18, 2004

Scared - No, Afraid - Yes

As you might have heard, the reviews for Ju-On: The Grudge were a mixed bag, ranging from "Scary" to "Silly", "Boring" to "Inspired", and back again. Seattle Maggie caught a showing at the Varsity Theater in the U-District, where it is playing for a scant week. Compared to the ever-popular Ringu (and sequels, and prequels!) and the truly creepy Dark Water, Ju-On is about a haunted house and those who have the misfortune to come in contact with it. The primary inhabitants of the house are the ghosts of a murdered housewife, her glassy-eyed son and the truly unlucky family cat, and they sure are pissed off. Set up as a series of short stories featuring young women, the mother-son-cat team make sure that all of their victims are pursued by a frenzy of unsettling visions, resulting in a nasty end. In most cases, the final blow is suggested rather than splashed across the screen - this movie is definitely more concerned with atmosphere and building up tension. This is also evident in the thin plot tying it all together which doesn't even attempt to build to a climax, at least none that we could discern.

JuOnTheGrudge-photo_01.jpg Does it work? It is hard to say. Having watched a fair amount of this new wave of Japanese horror, Ju-On featured many of the scare tricks we have seen before, including the weirdly lurching ghouls with masses of unruly black hair, the creepily staring young children, and the spiritually warped video tape. This took away considerably from the scare factor, although it may still work nicely for someone seeing them for the first time. Also, we must admit we had a bit of a hard time following the intertwining stories because (saints preserve us from the fury of our Asian sisters!) a lot of the characters just look alike, mostly young women with short hair and stylish clothes. We aren't given the opportunity to get to know them before they are snuffed out, so they get hasty labeled in our minds as "the Sister" or "the Social Worker", which doesn't make us care terribly about their untimely fates. The swift, constant cycle of lurking and dying can numb the viewer, which doesn't help you hold onto that creeped out feeling.

If there is something truly frightening about Ju-On, it is this: Evil doesn't care about you. It doesn't care about your sex, religion or race. It doesn't care if you floss twice a week, or whether you tip the barista every time you order that triple vente mocha, or if you flush live spiders down the plughole for fun. It doesn't care about how old your kids are, or how you met your spouse, or how much money is stashed in your 401K. Your hopes and dreams, your good intentions, your murderous thoughts, your beliefs, your regret, your very life, the essence that makes you an individual - none of it makes the slightest difference. This is the true meaning of fear, when evil does not pause in its rage to recognize you.

The evil in Ju-On lashes out without logic or pity, with no regard for those lying in its path. Whether the characters entered its realm by accident, or on a dare, or just to care for a lonely old woman, they are all cut down in the same unrelenting way. And there is no escape, no silver bullets or crucifixes, no moments of "A-Ha!", no forlorn spirits just waiting to be understood, vindicated and sent on their merry way to a peaceful afterlife. In Ju-On, there is only fear and death and rage, rippling in inexorable waves over anything unlucky enough to cross its path, as boundless as the sea and with as many untold secrets. In the face of her ultimate demise, one character flees to her bed, the only safe haven she has, and pulls the blanket over her head like a child. We wish that this was enough to ward the evil away, this childhood belief in warmth and protection, but it is not. This is the meaning of evil and its ever unsatisfied grudge, and Seattle Maggie found she was, indeed, afraid.

On a Lighter Note: During the broadcast of the Athens Olympics this weekend, Seattle Maggie caught Bob Costas intoning the phrase "Hubris of Folly". Bob Costas, you gotta get over yourself, dude - there ain't no Olympic event for "Thesaurus Abuse".

Posted by seattle maggie at August 18, 2004 8:13 AM