Following the events of the second grudge, Kayako finally kills the child she apparently left alive; the one in the way when she finally takes Allison’s spirit and drags her away via a ghost portal in Allison’s sweatshirt.
Grudge 3 is set in that same apartment building, but this time, we follow three siblings—Lisa, Max, the complex’s manager, and Rose, their younger sister with an unnamed respiratory issue, as they try to fight off the malevolent, unrelenting spirit of Kayako and her son.
For the record, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to move the curse away from the Saeki house. In fact, it’s one of the aspects that makes Kayako, or the concept of the Onryo in general, fascinating; that fact that it doesn’t simply haunt one fixed location like a regular angry spirit. Kayako Saeki will spread to people and places across the globe. She is bounded by no limitations. Where you go, she goes, and God help you if you’re unfortunate enough to even cross paths with a person on her shit list. Claiming that Kayako can follow a person to the ends of the Earth, to an extent, can keep the franchise from falling to a repetitive, predictable slump.
With that being said, The Grudge 3 doesn’t bother breaking any new ground at all, despite its different setting and characters. In fact, every single one of the Grudge’s American made movies can be boiled down to a formula; unfortunate idiot enters the Saeki house, gets cursed, tries to find a cure for the curse, discovers Kayako’s background, only for nothing to work, and eventually, they die.
To give this film credit, at least an abundance of white people makes sense in this one. It was weird, the first two technically being set in Japan but suffering from a terminal case of ‘all-white characters’. But, in this one, all of the people who live in the building are so painfully boring and unmemorable, save for the actress that supposedly is Kayako’s sudden, tacked on younger sister, Naoko. And, even then, the Grudge 3 squanders Naoko’s potential, reducing her to the Japanese character whose only purpose is to serve the white people in trouble. Going in this film’s canon, Naoko is Toshio’s aunt, Kayako’s sister, and we don’t see any sort of sadness or regret from her as she is forced to chase after the furious, unrelenting spirit that was once her family.
Also, there’s something goofier looking about this Kayako as compared to Takako Fuji’s original interpretations of the character. I’m not sure how they decided to handle the makeup for this movie, but Kayako and her Toshio look like shit. Like, who did the makeup on this movie? Ick.
Like, she’s so weird looking that it actually kind of looks creepy in the picture. I laugh now, but if I saw this thing peering at me from down a dark hallway? Nope.
Kayako Origins Story
They did the same thing in the Grudge 2; when Karen’s sister is looking for a way to break the curse, she finds Kayako’s mother, and learns that Kayako, as a child, was exposed to the world of malevolent spirits early on, and sometimes forced to take in the spirit plaguing someone else. I never understood the line of reasoning The Grudge 2 and 3 were trying to thread together with creating Shamanic origins for Kayako and her mother, only for it to lead absolutely nowhere.
Becoming an Onryo solely consists of dying in terror or rage; basically, a very emotional death does an Onryo create. So there’s no need for these movies to keep tacking on more and more convoluted backstories for Kayako. They even establish the Onryo lore at the beginning of the films themselves—“when a person dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a grudge is born”. So why do we need a Kayako origin story?
And the best part is, in both movies, learning of her upbringing has done fuck-all; even in this story, where Naoko performs the ritual to rid Rose and Lisa of Kayako by drinking her blood (which, Naoko somehow has even though it’s at least been a few years since Kayako’s murder?), it seems to banish her. However, as Lisa embraces her younger sister, after all, is said and done, the camera pans out to reveal that Lisa has been hugging Kayako the whole time; meaning, the ritual was pointless and the family is doomed to die.
Move over girls; there’s a new malevolent ghost in town!
The influence of Kayako makes Lisa’s brother, and apartment manager Max, start losing his mind. During the ritual to banish Kayako, Max shows up, with the intent to kill his sisters. He ends up stabbing Naoko in the throat with a box cutter, but, after Kayako’s spirit is seemingly culled by Rose, he comes to his senses, and looks at his bloodied hands in horror.
Now, I thought this movie would end as many bad horror movies do; with Naoko sacrificing herself to save the white people, and Max, Rose, and Lisa get to leave with their lives but thank god, not the case. Max gets his ass handed to him by Naoko’s furious spirit after stabbing her and inadvertently creating another, unstoppable Onryo that also has the throaty death rattle sounding noise.
It was extremely gratifying to see that dude get fucked up, and in the context of what an Onryo is it makes sense for her to turn into one; she died in terror and rage. But, again, in the context of the Onryo, why would she just go after /him/? What’s stopping Naoko now from, like her sister, haunting every single one of the present and future occupants of this building? Did the Grudge 3 just make the curse worse by dooming every single person who steps foot into that building to a horrible death?
The grudge 3 fucked up so badly that they accidentally ended up creating another goddamn malevolent, violent, unstoppable force, and couldn’t even defeat the first malevolent force! Whoops! Here’s hoping it’ll turn out like a Sadako V. Kayako showdown and the two curses will cancel each other out (as if the movie didn’t end with the two creating a more lethal curse fusion which destroyed everything in its path).
Naoko as the new Grudge in town. Honestly? I’d watch another Grudge with her as the antagonist.
In all seriousness, I have to ask why this movie was even made when I can just watch the first two? It doesn’t break any new ground even with a different setting, falls into the same, predictable tropes that we see in the previous installments, and introduces a potentially cool character only to kill the hell out of her useless ass by a guy who looks like an extra on the set of Smallville. Here’s hoping with the next American Grudge installment, in theaters now, brings something new, exciting and most importantly, scary, to the table.