Second curse, same as the first.
Pouring out of shower heads like long black hair comes "The Grudge 2," a sequel to the 2004 hit that was based on the Japanese "Ju-On." Fans of the first "Grudge" will be delighted to see all their favorites: Kayako the unfriendly ghost, wide-eyed Grudge baby, even first-installment protagonist Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar), if only briefly.
Fans will be less delighted, however, by an unshakable sense of deja vu. This is not the cool, eerie deja vu, but the "Hey, isn't that exactly what happened in the first movie?" deja vu. "Grudge 2" is such a complete rehash of its predecessor that it's likely that those who haven't seen the original (American or Japanese versions) will enjoy the sequel more than those who have.
The story is told in fractured chronology, following three plotlines that eventually intersect. Two of the three are clone-stamped from the first movie. The third takes place in America as the evil legacy is transferred to Chicago.
(The acting is extremely uneven throughout, with only Jennifer Beals as a new American stepmom and young Matthew Knight as her stepson making lasting impressions.)
In the main strand, Karen's sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, "Joan of Arcadia") comes to Japan to retrieve her hospitalized sibling, who looks as if she's seen a ghost. Soon it is Aubrey who must cope with the curse of a slaughtered family, aided by a handsome but ineffectual journalist (Asian star Edison Chen). Meanwhile -- sort of -- three little girls from school learn it's not nice to mess with haunted houses.
Even more than is typical of the genre, characters suffer from Incredibly Stupid Idea Syndrome. When it's clear that the haunted house is the axis of evil, these geniuses keep right on strutting in like moths to the flame. The ghosts have to be chortling in disbelief at how eagerly these nimrods stick their necks in the snare.
Director Takashi Shimizu (who helmed all previous versions) infuses the film with weird visual details. Shadows are dark, and there may be things moving in them. Most of the chills, however, are generated by Paul N.J. Ottosson's excellent sound design. The effects seem to be engineered at a pitch that evokes a visceral response.
But these charms aren't enough to protect a sequel that should have been called "The Grudge ... Again."
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images, terror and violence, and some sensuality.
A Sony/Columbia Pictures release. Director Takashi Shimizu. Screenplay Stephen Susco. Based on "Ju-On: The Grudge," written and directed by Shimizu. Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Taka Ichise. Director of photography Katsumi Yanagijima. Editor Jeff Betancourt. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In general release.