Dir: Takashi Shimizu. US.2004. 90mins.

The second Hollywoodremake of a J-horror movie after blockbuster hit The Ring, The Grudgehas confirmed the wide appetite for this kind of unsettling chiller with a $40mopening weekend in North America.

Domestic distributorColumbia Pictures positioned the film to perfection, scoring a teen-friendlyPG-13 rating, creating intriguing TV spots and programming them relentlessly inthe run-up to the weekend. Its second weekend drop is likely to beconsiderable, however. While The Grudge certainly delivers on the scareswhich director Takashi Shimizu first generated in his 2003 original Ju-On,its unexplained mysteries will frustrate American teens accustomed to neaterstorytelling.

International territorieswill follow the same pattern of big opening, followed by steep drops insubsequent weekends, but distributors who bought the film from financierSenator International should have no complaints. This debut picture from SamRaimi and Rob Tappert's Ghost House Pictures is already a winner.

Ghost House and screenwriterStephen Susco took a cunning approach to the remake. Instead of relocating theaction to the US, they have kept it in Tokyo and brought in American characters- principally exchange students Karen (Gellar) and her boyfriend Doug (Behr),professor Bill Pullman and a doomed family as played by Duvall, Mapother,Zabriskie and Strickland. The Japanese setting lends an additional element ofthe unknown to the film, not to mention a novelty which separates it from thecountless US-set haunted house movies in the horror cannon from Halloweento Amityville to The Exorcist.

It also enables directorShimizu to retain many of the proven devices from the first movie - from thetitle of the movie in Japanese on the credits to a replica of the house itselfto the striking little boy Yuya Ozeki as Toshio.

And bravely for a US remake,the film has retained the time-shifting structure which tells the story of eachvictim and their inter-actions in a non-chronological manner.

The new film's pre-creditsequence sees professor Pullman leap off a balcony. With no explanation givenfor his suicide, the drama kicks off post-credits with the arrival at asuburban house of a social worker to care for the elderly matron of the houseEmma (Zabriskie). On entering, she hears noises upstairs and on investigating,is confronted by a sinister apparition which sucks her up into the attic.

American student Karen isenlisted by her boss Alex (Ted Raimi) to go to the house when the originalsocial worker goes missing. She too hears strange noises, encounters a smallboy called Toshio and then witnesses the same apparition consume and kill Emma.

Meanwhile the film then cutsback to the arrival at the house of Emma and her son Matthew (Mapother), his wifeJennifer (Duvall) and his sister Susan (Strickland). Starting with Jennifer,each is picked off by the apparition.

After Emma's death, thepolice under inspector Nakagawa (Ishibashi) are brought in and they informKaren that three years previously a man had murdered his wife, child and cat atthe house and then killed himself. She begins to realise that the grudge - acurse which is born when people are killed in the grip of a violent rage - hasbeen activated and kills anyone who goes to the house. She also discovers thatthe American professor who killed himself the day after the murder-suicide isalso involved.

Shimizu is a director ofstyle and effect rather than of characters and drama. None of the charactersare particularly developed although Gellar herself strives valiantly to providethe audience with a heroine to root for; nor is the new ending particularlyeffective, although it leaves the drama open for a sequel. The story isnihilistic as only J-horror can be. The fact that there is no defence againstthe grudge - once you've been inside the house, you're a gonner - might provetoo grimly pessimistic for some younger audiences.

Still, hats off to GhostHouse for retaining the Japanese elements from director Shimizu to the settingto the same eerie bone-cracking sounds effects. In doing so, they haveresurrected much of the creepiness of the original. Whether the Japanese publicwill embrace this remake as much as they did the remake of The Ring isanother question.

Prod co: Ghost House Pictures
US dist:
Columbia Pictures
Int'l sales:
Exec prods:
Joe Drake, NathanKahane, Carsten Lorenz, Roy Lee, Doug Davison
Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert& Taka Ichise
Stephen Susco, based on thefilm Ju-On: The Grudge written by Takashi Shimizu
Hideo Yamamoto
Prod des:
Iwao Saito
Jeff Bettancourt
Christopher Young
Main cast:
Sarah Michelle Gellar,Jason Behr, Clea Duvall, William Mapother, KaDee Strickland, Grace Zabriskie,Bill Pullman, Ryo Ishibashi, Ted Raimi