October 19, 2006

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The Grudge 2 (PG-13)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer hands the cursed Japanese torch to Joan of Arcadia in this tale of even more hauntings by a rage-filled long-haired Tokyo woman and her big-eyed pale-skinned son (both dead) in The Grudge 2.

The movie begins with a scene wherein Jennifer Beals pours sizzling hot bacon grease over a man's face, beans him with a frying pan and then sits down to enjoy some tasty crispy pork.

This is by far the best scene in the movie.

After this little tableau of domesticity, we move to Pasadena, where Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) learns that her sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been in some sort of accident in Tokyo and that the officials believe she has started a fire and killed her boyfriend. Aubrey travels to Japan (despite a completely irrelevant rift between the sisters) and finds her sister all wide-eyed and nutty, tied to a hospital bed. Their reunion is short, though, because shortly after seeing Aubrey, Karen runs to the roof to escape the creepy long-haired backwards-walking girl and then comes careening off it. Aubrey is horrified and so begins investigating what happened to her sister. Which involves, of course, going back to the (now burned out) house that so thoroughly terrified everybody in the first movie.

Meanwhile, a few years in the future, three high school students at Tokyo's international school are trying to scare each other by going to the house. The two popular girls convince the wallflower to get in the haunted closet, after which she starts to scream. And then they scream. And then they're all cursed.

Jennifer Beals' Trish appears in this tale's third storyline, which begins several months after the school-girl tomfoolery. She is moving in with her husband and his two children (the teenage daughter is welcoming, the younger son is wary). They seem so happy at first but soon Beals is spending her days with her ear glued to the wall separating their apartment from the neighbors, from which all members of the family are hearing strange person-going-nuts noises.

These three storylines Aubrey, the girls, Beals' murder by bacon weave around each other with our focus constantly jumping forward and then back in time. I'm sure the movie sees this serpentine storytelling device as suspenseful and attention-capturing. I see it more as the lackadaisical weavings of a driver stuffed to the gills with barbiturates and only barely aware of being on the road.

The Grudge 2 benefits as the first movie did from a few nifty scenes of creepy or artful visuals. But the movie clearly had no faith in whatever its original plot was meant to be (the Karen/Aubrey hand-off, I suspect). The blank space is filled in with well-placed shadows and with the dreary extra plotlines, creating a tale that seems to take forever to get nowhere. C-

Amy Diaz