Dir: Takashi Shimizu. 2006. 102mins.

The hairy ghost andher bug-eyed little boy work overtime in TheGrudge 2, Japanese director Takashi Shimizu's busy but less effectivesequel to his hit American remake of his franchise-starting J-horror chiller Ju-On.

Thoughoriginal star Sarah Michelle Gellar makes only a brief appearance this timeout, the sequel has already made a decent start in the US, where it opened at the weekend.Its long-term domestic and international prospects will depend on whether thenew cast of attractive young American and Asian actors can pull in audiences asefficiently as Gellar did in the wake of her globally successful Buffy The VampireSlayer TV series.

With Columbia distributing, the sequel had a Friday the 13thpre-Halloween opening in North America lastweekend and topped the box office chart with an estimated gross of $24m. Butapproaching the $110.3m total domestic gross that The Grudge achieved two years ago looks very unlikely, given thatthe sequel will have to make most of its money in the next two weeks, beforethe arrival of competing horror franchise entry Saw III.

In theinternational marketplace, the mostly independent theatrical distributors thathave licensed rights from Mandate Pictures are set to open the sequel throughOctober and November. The original grossed $76.9m outside North America (also through independents), but distributors will have towork hard to do as well with the sequel.

Rather thanadapting his own Ju-On 2 for the American market Shimizuworked with Stephen Susco (who adapted the originalfilm) to produce a new script - with three interweaving stories and tangledtimelines - for the USsequel.

One storyis about an American schoolgirl (Arielle Kebbel, fromTV series Gilmore Girls) in Tokyo who pays anill-advised visit to the burnt-out house where the grudge curse started.Another centres on an American family in Chicago whose new mum(Jennifer Beals) turns nasty after the arrival of astrange new neighbour. The third follows Aubrey (AmberTamblyn, from TheSisterhood Of The Traveling Pants and TV's Joan Of Arcadia), sister to Gellar's original character, as shevisits Tokyo and hooks up with a dishy journalist(Asian film, TV and music star Edison Chen) to investigate her sibling'sinvolvement with the curse.

The storiesmeet towards the end of the film and there's a vague explanation of how thecurse got started as well as a hint of a mother-daughter theme. But, even morethan in the first film, the confusing narrative is really just a thread on whichto hang the creepy appearances of the ashen ghost and her lurking sidekick.

Thephantoms show up much more frequently than they did in the slow-burning US original. Shimizu once again makesclever use of sound, framing and lighting, and comes up with one or twointeresting new ways for the spirits to manifest themselves and claim theirvictims. But this time he goes more for regular - and only mildly effective -shocks than ambient creepiness with an occasional pay-off.

Thethree-story structure makes the film feel repetitive, as characters indifferent settings go through similar hide-and-seek routines with the pastyspooks. After a while, all the breathless whimpering and ghoulish grabbingbegins to blur into a less-than-terrifying whole.

Theperformances are a mixed bag. Tamblyn is quiteaffecting as the younger sister whose inferiority complex drives her search foranswers about the curse. Chen, who was born in Canadabut is best known as an actor for starring in Hong Kong'sInfernal Affairs movies, is unconvincingin his first significant English-language role.

Production company
Ghost House Pictures

US distribution
Columbia Pictures

Mandate Pictures

Roy Lee
Doug Davison
Joe Drake
Nathan Kahane

Sam Raimi
Rob Tapert
Taka Ichise

Takashi Shimizu
Stephen Susco

Katsumi Yanagijima

Iwao Saito

Jeff Betancourt

Christopher Young

Main cast
Amber Tamblyn
Arielle Kebbel
Jennifer Beals
Edison Chen
Sarah Roemer
Sarah Michelle Gellar