I couldn’t say enough about this film. It is one of my all time favorite, and probably number one on my horror list.
So, I’ll keep this brief, and by the numbers.
I : Story
I like how American horror tries to tell a ghost story with gore. It seems that the far east loves to tell the same story, only with a story. Ju-On stands out in this regard. There’s blood, shock scare, sure. But there isn’t a lady running around with her jaw missing, bleeding everywhere. That’s a bit of a turnoff.
Instead, we are told about what ‘The Grudge’ is with a quick read and some fast cuts to draw us in, and from there they build up. The film is broken into short chapters detailing the experience of each character with the ghost/phenomenon. Each is tied to the next, which to me is key for a solid story. I only mention this because I’ve seen enough folks (myself included) write without such continuity, it seems like it should be mentioned.
The story crescendos into what is, to this author, one of the finest climaxes in film. It is built up with subtlety and garnished with a side of impending doom. More on that scene later.
And of course, the film ends with a nice scene that really ties the room together.
II : The Scene
A mix of intimate and claustrophobic camera angles create authentic atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like you are an observer for much of the movie. And some of the scariest moments are close enough you can smell it.
This allows for greater suspense. There are agonizingly long stretches where a character is forced to inch closer to a door/object for inspection. During this time, viewers are thinking the same as the character in the scene; We must guess what horrible things lurk among the unknown. This, to me, is a cornerstone of good horror. It’s the delayed punchline. The payoff.
Also, there’s not much to the special effects, really. This makes me happy. I look at it as an example of being able to do a LOT with very little. Less is more, one would say. Doing this, the actors are challenged to actually do their jobs instead of relying on a CG representation of them dubbed by a stock scream track. To this end, the players in Ju-On do a helluva job. Bueno.
III : Sound
One of my favorite elements in the film.
There isn’t a tremendous amount of added sound.
It. Is. Creepy. So, A+ for that!
Without music to distract, or crazy dissonance out of a string section, we have to deal with the organic, natural utterances of the cast and surrounding environment. This, coupled with the intimate imagery, makes for an authentic experience.
Also, the death rattle is out of control, and haunted me for days.
In American horror, it seems we rely too heavily on music to let people know when it’s time to be scared. I understand that as a companion element, creepy music can make a scene creepier. But that’s exactly it; Ju-On doesn’t have to rely on it, and it blew my mind.
The climax of Ju-On sports a scene that is limited to the rustles and thumps of our ‘antagonist’ moving coupled with the creeptastic death rattle, as well as the protagonists’ reactions to the phenomenon made real. It is chilling, and if you can watch the whole scene, it may make you pee a little. I might have. A little.
IV : Final Thoughts
I wholly recommend you see this movie if you are a fan of horror, especially of the foreign variety.
I, much like any horror movie, also recommend you watch it by yourself in the dark, or if you insist on having someone watch it with you, don’t talk too much during the flick. I feel that it fouls the ability to scare the crap out of yourself (read: get everything out of the movie).