The Grudge: Karen Davis, an American Nurse, moves to Tokyo and encounters a supernatural spirit who is vengeful and often possesses its victims. A series of horrifying and mysterious deaths start to occur, with the spirit passing its curse onto each victim. Karen must now find away to break this spell, before she becomes its next victim.
The Ring: Rachel Keller is a journalist investigating a videotape that may have killed four teenagers (including her niece). There is an urban legend about this tape: the viewer will die seven days after watching it. If the legend is correct, Rachel will have to run against time to save her son’s and her own life.
Amelia: Let’s get this out in the open right away: Ju-On is superior to The Grudge in every single way. It’s usually no surprise when that happens, the original is almost always better and besides, Americans have absolutely no idea how to approach Japanese horror. Ju-On really seems to have perplexed them the most. When they remade The Ring, One Missed Call, and Pulse they relocated the stories to happen in America, thus making sense to the sea of white faces you’ll encounter. With The Grudge they decided to stay in Japan but just put white, English speaking Americans in Tokyo. You know, so moviegoers wouldn’t have to read big, scary subtitles! Seriously, if you don’t like subtitles and believe that they make a movie bad, grow the fuck up! You know what makes movies bad? Recycled storytelling and terrible acting, both of which can be found here in spades!
Billy: What a complete misstep The Grudge was. Produced by Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi, it’s a perfect example of how different American and Japanese sensibilities are when it comes to horror. Raimi has always been at his best when throwing blood and guts around on screen to the dismay of a helpless victim. Ash vs. Evil Dead is a perfect example of this. The problem is that Ju-On, the film he has his hand in remaking, is nothing like that. It was a slow burner with a complicated web of a story. Rather than interconnected, these stories in the remake feel coincidental. While I appreciate the need to put English speaking leads in your American horror film, it stops short of actually embracing the change and just expects you to believe this curse is only affecting the Americans who all happen to be in Tokyo. There’s actually story to be made with that, but it’s not what The Grudge is doing. The Grudge is staying as close to its roots as possible, going as far as to hire the original director, but failing to recapture its spirit.
If we can’t retain the Japanese cast (even an English-speaking Japanese cast) I would have preferred a story set entirely in America. It loses so much by trying to justify this arbitrary choice. Sarah Michelle-Gellar is supposed to be the lead character, set up as an outsider in a strange land. She is a very small part in this film. On the other hand, Ethan from LOST is here! After seeing Ben and Miles in Saw, I definitely feel like the island is trying to find a way to pull me back. Oh, and look, the smoke monster is here too!
Amelia: Comparatively, the American remake of The Ring is quite good. It’s been Americanized with gore and jump scares and the VHS technology isn’t used as well, but it’s as unsettling as it’s Japanese counterpart, hell, maybe even a little more unsettling than it’s Japanese counterpart. The film’s tones are very cool, and I mean in terms of colour. The whole thing is very blue. Think of the filters they used in the Twilight movies for reference, except with a purpose. It creates a desolate and dreary atmosphere no matter what’s happening. Naomi Watts is also a much better actress than Sarah Michelle Gellar, so it’s less horrible to watch in that regard. Seriously, I hate seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar in feature films. It makes my soul cringe.
Billy: My opinion of The Ring is much better than The Grudge as well. It just feels built on more solidly American bones. I mean, it opens with two teens watching and talking about TV. This is inherently American. Scream can do this. It actually surprises me how much of a period piece this film is, especially when you consider it’s only 14 years old. VHS tapes, physical photographs, and corded phones are so completely elements of the past. I’m pretty sure the lead character even works for a newspaper! Because of the lead characters being journalists, there’s a much more investigative vibe to this movie that keeps it moving straight ahead through a very focussed plot. I love how much of a twist they make it that Samara is just a kid who loves to kill. Like, it has the typical American horror film happy ending, but then twists that to give viewers a real scare in bringing it back to its roots. That is how you adapt with tone in mind.
Amelia: When it comes to these two American remakes in a Grudge vs Ring showdown, The Ring is the clear winner. I feel like more love and care went into The Ring compared to what The Grudge was with just a lazy rehashing of the same story in the same location, from the country right down to the house they use. The only notable addition that’s even a little creepy is replacing the bathroom scene with the sister to a stairwell scene with the sister. But aside from that, The Grudge even has the same director as Ju-On! What’s the point of this remake if they just did exactly the same as the original but with white people?!
Billy: I was the one who thought we should compare these remakes to each other rather than their original Japanese counterparts. It’s interesting to see the different approach taken for each and whether it succeeds or fails. What do you need to keep for a successful foreign adaptation? What do you have to let go? Would you be able to see a Japanese version of Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street? If so, what aspects would we see carry over there, or would I feel like their spirits were just as butchered?
Amelia: I think we can all agree that a Japanese Nightmare on Elm Street would be the tits. Please make that happen world, you owe us after this toxic, abortive mess of a year!
Two sets of stairs out of ten for The Grudge
Seven wells out of ten for The Ring
I love Ju-On. It’s one of my all time favourite horror movies. Its American remake makes me want to scream out in frustration and boredom. Reverse that for The Ring. I’m only lukewarm on the original but I do enjoy the American remake quite a bit. Go figure. Although one thing I can say for the remake is that the head floating down the open door is pretty creepy. Just not creepy enough to make me care about all of it.
Billy: Three sets of stairs out of ten for The Grudge
Five wells out of ten for The Ring
Okay, so as much as I like The Ring, I don’t think either of these remakes would be my top choice for a go-to horror night in the future. Both sort of take the superficial elements of the original films to let them play out in a new way. Tone is something that just wasn’t translated properly in The Grudge, and while The Ring took a lot of pains to stay true to the original while genuinely feeling American in its premise, it still doesn’t ring 100% true to me as a film on its own. It really needs this context of going up against another remake to be appreciated. I’d tear it to shreds next to the original.