Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Script Versus Film: The Grudge

I read this script in September 2003. Written by newcomer Stephen Susco, I thought it was a fine genre horror that crackled along with a good sense of shock and surprise. It had its flaws but it was a very good script. When I went to see it at the cinema, I was distinctly disappointed as the flaws blemished the experience when, in script form, they were easy to overlook (which is uncommon, but what do I know?).

Here’s my logline: “An American nurse working in Tokyo has a ghastly experience when a routine house call reveals the horror and murder of the previous occupants.”

And here’s my brief: “A cross between “The Ring” and “Dark Water”, this still has enough suspense and scares to suggest that it could provide some dough at the box office.”

My comments below (spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet):

“This is based on the trilogy of Asian horror films – “Ju-on” – by director Takashi Shimizu, and essentially, the premise follows the reliable route of successful Asian horror films, i.e. person/persons being haunted by a woman with long dark hair, dark black eyes, and who has a bad habit of appearing out of nowhere.

The recent American remake of “The Ring” showed that this premise had the potential and appeal to win audiences over at the box office, and while “The Grudge” follows a similar pattern to “The Ring”, there’s enough scare and suspense in the flick to suggest that it might bring in similar cash to its predecessor. In truth, “The Grudge” is like a combination of “The Ring” and “Dark Water” (another Asian horror along similar lines) as it involves being haunted by a woman with long dark hair but also uses a mysterious young boy to add to the supernatural mix.

In “The Grudge”, the plot focuses on Karen, an American nurse, as she comes across the supernatural entities during a routine house call and after the backstory is partly explained to spooky effect, Karen spends the remainder of the film trying to uncover the secret of the ghosts and their reasons for murder.

The plot takes a non-linear approach to its structure and almost goes backwards in its chronology to detail the murders and events that have led up to the present day. This is quite a distinctive and effective style, and the pace and structure work well over the course of the first 60 pages or so. It starts with the apparent suicide of Peter (this happens in the past), then introduces Karen the American nurse (the present) and after she gets her first experience of the Woman with Long Dark Hair, the narrative doubles back on itself to present the fate of the American family who live in the house (the past).

This works well because it keeps the tension and scare tactics at a good level, and consequently the pace crackles along to a good sense of horror and doom. However, after the narrative details the supernatural shenanigans of the past, its switch back to the present heralds a slight dip in form. The story becomes unnecessarily complicated and messy as it tries to reveal the reasons why Kayako is on her ghostly murderous spree, and Karen’s determination to unravel the whole mystery came across as far too unlikely and contrived.

As a result, there doesn’t seem to be any point to the story beyond its desire to scare the audience and the story lacks an emotional heart or purpose. No matter really, as the plot provides slick entertainment that should make audiences gasp with horror and surprise. Some of the spooky elements become a bit repetitive or predictable but they are all handled in an assured manner which gives them a certain edge and effectiveness.

Because the narrative jumps around with its structure and time line, the script doesn’t spend a lot of time with Karen, the protagonist, and her role and involvement towards the latter stages of the film weren’t entirely necessary or justified. Still, her character functions as a conduit for the audience to get involved in the story because she’s an American abroad who has to deal with a foreign land and strange events in a spooky household.

Karen’s relationship with Doug is a limp device to add an emotional element to their characterisation and situation, and it’s only a perfunctory inclusion so that there can be some justification for Karen and Doug’s behaviour at the end. The end becomes convoluted and silly – the actual ‘grudge’ is a bit disappointing and confusing – but the slick portrayal of the suspense and horror suggests that there’s enough here to make its mark at the box office, and could provide a tidy return.”

1 comment:

Dan Owen said...

I enjoyed The Grudge, for one very simple reason -- the audience I saw it with in the cinema were fantastic. Lots of gasps, laughs, tiny screams, giggles, etc. Usually too much audience reaction spoils films for me, but they're the lifeblood of comedies and horror.

An opposing example is the Austin Powers movies. I saw The Spy Who Shagged and Goldmember at the cinema, and the audience just didn't laugh. Very weird. It totally affected the atmosphere and you could sense people not wanting to draw attention to themselves by laughing in the end! But, on DVD (and the privacy of your own home) Goldmember in particular had me in stitches!

So audiences have a big part to play in the cinema for certain genres. Incidentally, I find reviews of horror and comedy screenplays are very often unreliable - as so much only works visually through direction and actor's performances. In particular, I'm sure a comedy script can be amusing, but I have yet to read a comedy script that has made me laugh out loud and been better (or the equal) of the finished product.