The latest Grudge sees Takashi Shimizu wringing every ounce of supernatural fear out of a lean plot.
A creepy white-faced woman with long black hair emerges out of the shadows and starts to crawl along the floor uttering a spine-tingling guttural croak. Could it be another innocent punter finally cracking before the grim parade of J-horror wannabes? For every fan who's enjoyed the rich feast of recent years, 10 more are starting to feel a wee bit overstuffed. Well, clear the palate because this one is really rather good.
The Grudge 2 is the sequel to a movie which was itself a remake of a pair of low budget, straight-to-video films called Ju-on: The Curse. The latter films were remade again, this time with Hollywood backing and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Confused? Don't worry, you're not alone. All the entries in the series have been directed by Takashi Shimizu who appears to be spending his life riffing on the same horror theme.
The plots vary little from movie to movie: the violent murder of a crazy mother and her child curse an ordinary house nestling in an average suburb of Tokyo. Anyone who comes into contact with the place can expect to be killed by ghosts. Got it? The films' low budgets put more emphasis on mood than gore, and the results in all fairness are pretty damn creepy and unnerving.
This latest sees Shimizu refining his craft, wringing every ounce of supernatural fear out of a lean plot that follows a documentary crew making a TV show about the haunted house. The film is divided into episodes that flip forwards and backwards, making it easy to lose track if you're rummaging for popcorn. The effect is disorientating but suits the movie's mood of darkly menacing surrealism.
Shimizu is influenced as much by David Lynch as he is obsessed with Hideo Nakata, and he's learned a trick or two about droning music cues to ratchet those nerves. Despite a whiff of the faintly ridiculous (a wig that comes to life? O-kay), Shimizu is a master at attaching fearful significance to simple things such as a stain on the floor or a thud on a wall.
You'd be ill-advised to watch this movie without having seen the previous instalment, as much of it will make little sense otherwise. And while it's certainly not the greatest Asian ghost story of recent times – that honour goes to Kim Ji-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters – Kayako's low, throaty growl is without doubt one of the most terrifying things you'll ever hear.
Takashi Shimizu has yet to produce a dull film.
Starts as it means to go on: with disconcerting scares and a growing sense of dread.
Possibly a movie for fans of Asian horror films only, but worth it.