A very accomplished cast can’t prevent “The Grudge” reboot from being the first dog of 2020, a well-acted but incompetently-plotted tale of a curse that transfers like a deed — a haunted house that crosses hemispheres.
A gaunt Andrea Riseborough, playing a newly-widowed cop digging into a case she cannot fathom, physically quakes in the presence of the supernatural, a reaction any human could understand but which few actors can manage when the camera rolls.
Legendary horror movie mascot Lin Shaye matches the great Jacki Weaver, blood-curdling scream for blood-curdling scream.
And Betty Gilpin and John Cho play a couple already in mourning for a baby that’s not been born, sucked into the creepy Japanese curse of the stringy-haired girl. Why? Because husband Peter’s a realtor, and he’s just got to close on that house on 44 Reyborn Drive in creepy, perpetually-rainy Cross River, Pennsylvania.
Writer-director Nicolas Pesce (“The Eyes of My Mother”) juggles multiple stories in multiple timelines showing how every person who enters this repeatedly resold 1930s Arts & Crafts house is a candidate for haunting, hunting, tormenting, demonic possession and murder.
But he often blunders the most basic requirement in a modern horror thriller. He’s made a most inefficient fright delivery vehicle.
In 2006, a still-grieving widow (Riseborough) starts life over with her little boy and their dog and a new detective position in a new town — Cross River. First day on the job, she and her partner (Demián Bichir) are called out to a gruesome, months-old death scene.
The tone is established in an instant. This “Grudge” is all rain, rotting corpses, a runty ghost and rusty ’80s vintage Chevrolets.
In 2004, a Cross River woman (Tara Westwood) hurried home from a job in Japan, spooked out of her mind, but sure she’s left her troubles at the front door of the house she was renting in Nippon. Nope.
A prologue has told us of “the rules” of this “powerful curse,” which holds that when someone dies in a “powerful rage,” the curse stays with the place of the rage until it attaches itself to someone who visits there and moves on.
Even by supernatural horror film parameters, that’s some seriously silly supernatural nonsense. Nobody else feels the rage. They’re just assaulted until the raging presence that preys on them consumes them.
William Saddler plays the ex-partner of Bichir’s Det. Goodman, a mangled shell of a man who never escaped, never got over what he came to believe, the nightmares he still sees.
“Maybe we should tear our eyes out so that we can’t see any more!”
Weaver, of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Bird Box,” plays a “compassionate companion” who comes to help a husband (Frankie Faison) cope with a dying wife (Shaye) too demented by the haunted house to be able to carry out an assisted suicide.
Pesce wastes them all, never giving Riseborough (“Battle of the Sexes” and “The Death of Stalin”) a chance to show a mother’s desperation to save her child, draining the pathos of the staggered expectant couple Cho and Gilpin (of “Searching” and “Isn’t it Romantic”) facing a terrible pre-natal decision and also haunted by the demonic Wednesday Addams as “The Orphan” (Zoe Fish), and on down the line.
Bechir of “A Better Life” and “The Nun” is given nothing to play here, just cigarettes and whisky glasses for props.
The first hair-raising moment comes 50 minutes in, but the deaths that follow are anti-climactic even as the chilling tone is maintained, largely through dim lighting and very good actors.
Writer-director Pesce was blessed with this cast. But after this, my guess is he’ll never work with players this accomplished again.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror and some language
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Demián Bichir, William Saddler, Betty Gilpin and Lin Shaye.
Credits: Written and directed by Nicolas Pesce, based on the original Takashi Shimizu script. A Sony/Screen Gems release.
Running time: 1:33