If director Nicolas Pesce’s reboot of Japanese horror film The Grudge is half as scary as the house he chose to shoot it in, then prepare for a terrifying ride.
In this latest reimagining of the 2002 J-Horror classic Ju-On: The Grudge – which spawned the 2004 US reboot (also directed by Takashi Shimizu) – we again revisit a house haunted by a vengeful ghost, cursing all who enter with a violent death.
When STACK visited said spooky house in the suburbs of Winnipeg, Canada, last year, even the cast was a little on edge – including Australia’s usually cheery Jacki Weaver.
“I won’t be able to watch this, that’s for sure,” she laughs as we chat on the deck of the Gothic monstrosity, all damp basements and darkened rooms. Even the crew and lights don’t displace the haunted air.
“Watching frightening films is not part of my recreation. The last scary film I saw was When a Stranger Calls in the ’70s, but I’ve made two other really frightening films and I haven’t seen either of them yet,” says Weaver, alluding to Bird Box and Haunt.
Even her co-star, horror veteran Lin Shaye, hasn’t been able to persuade her otherwise. “But it’s nice to have a frightening film that’s also got some intellectual depth. The characters all have substance and an arc; they’re not just there for the purpose of gore, which I think is probably what makes them more frightening. They’re people you can relate to that really exist, instead of being daffy blondes who run into garages with people with chainsaws,” says Weaver, who plays Shaye’s character’s euthanasia nurse.
“I hate being frightened. I can understand why it gives a lot of people a thrill to be frightened, but I’ve always said, I don’t need terror to be delighted. I get enough terror in my work. Standing in the wings eight times a week waiting to go on stage is frightening enough. That’s enough adrenaline to last me forever.”
So why The Grudge? “The answer in simple,” she says. “I thought the script was brilliant.”
Co-starring with John Cho, Betty Gilpin and Demian Bichir, Andrea Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon is at the forefront of this new take on The Grudge.
Known for her eclectic and discerning artistic choices, Riseborough admittedly is not a big horror fan beyond Hitchcock and Kubrick, but Pesce surprised her from day one with his sensitive approach.
“He didn’t want to make a genre film about a terrified woman running from sinister things in the forest, instead presenting me with a deeply complicated woman which I found very interesting,” muses the actress whose films include Birdman, Battle of the Sexes, Mandy and The Death of Stalin.
Riseborough immediately read further nuances into her role as a detective and single mother who has fled the big city to escape a troubled past.
“I imagined her as complicated perhaps with some addiction problems. She’s moved to a small town to find some sort of tranquility and peace and instead it’s the opposite, and she’s ill prepared. She’s really struggling to find herself before what peace she has is disrupted by this powerful force,” she says.
Barely 30 years old, Pesce is hardly a newcomer to the horror genre, having already directed and written cult favourites The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing.
Yet even he finds himself surprised by his choices. “I was terribly of afraid of horror movies as a kid, which is why I think I’m making horror movies now,” he says psychoanalysing himself.
“My mom literally made a VHS tape of The Sixth Sense with all the scares cut out of it for me,” he recalls. “And so probably the anticipation of what those scares were that she had cut out was the scariest thing for me. Sixth Sense did it to me every time. It was horrible.
“But, looking back, it was because I was so afraid of horror movies as a kid, that I became a filmmaker. I realised what the movies were that moved me the most and gave me the strongest reaction? And it was always scary movies. Like the original Grudge or The Ring, neither of which I could watch as a kid because they were way too scary.
“As a result, my tastes leaned more towards late ‘60s and early ‘70s horror movies, like Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby,” says the writer-director who grew to love the original Japanese Grudge franchise.
“The beauty of the Japanese Grudge films is that it’s an anthology. They’re not sequels of each other. Every single movie is a different story, different characters and different crime.
“I saw an opportunity, rather than remake the original Grudge, to just make a new one. There’s a through-line throughout all the Grudge films in a non-linear narrative where the story plays out of order using the key character archetypes that were always present.”
Hence, he decided to write and direct an entire new Grudge for 2020. “We don’t have any of the same characters as the old Grudges. As with the Japanese films, it’s a new set of families, a new crime. With this, we’re furthering the anthology and extending the canon.”
The Grudge is in cinemas on January 30