It's not entirely clear how or why The Grudge has endured as a successful film series, but the debut of The Grudge 3 on DVD (Sony Pictures, $24.96) rather than in theaters is a reassuring sign that its inexplicable popularity is finally waning. A retread of the two stateside films that were themselves descended from Takashi Shimizu's Japanese-language franchise, Toby Wilkins' follow-up is an underwhelming cash-in that is likely to entertain only those precious few who still find it scary to watch a pale Asian woman crab-walk across the floor while making the same noise that grade-school kids compete to see who can perform the longest.
The film opens as The Grudge 2 survivor Jake (Matthew Knight) is killed in his cell at a Chicago psychiatric facility where Dr. Sullivan (Shawnee Smith) is supervising his case. Meanwhile, the remaining tenants at the apartment building where the last film's events took place try to rebuild their lives, particularly manager Max (Gil McKinney), who struggles to find new residents while discouraging his sister Lisa (Johanna Braddy) from leaving him alone to care for their ailing sibling Rose (Jadie Hobson). After another tenant (Marina Sirtis) meets an untimely and gruesome demise, things look bleaker than ever; but soon a Japanese woman named Naoko (Emi Ikehata) moves in, offering a solution—and, hopefully, resolution—for the residents of this seemingly cursed Chicago apartment building.
While I enjoyed The Ring and a few other Asian horror remakes, I admit that I never understood the appeal of most of the genre's native entries, and I felt like the English-language adaptations and reinterpretations were driven more by commercial than creative impulses. The Grudge 3 all but completely confirms this, given not only its crass, meaningless repetition of the same kinds of scares, but the general feeling of boring "more-ness" that extends the franchise's mythology quantitatively without adding anything qualitative.
Undoubtedly the film features plenty of creepy moments paid off in gory punchlines, but this is lowest-common-denominator horror, where the chill achieved by a jarring sound effect, combined with a close-up of something gross or disturbing, is preferred and emphasized over anything approaching a thoughtful or introspective idea about what all this yucky stuff means. In other words, if you want to scare your teenage girlfriend without leaving her unable to make out after the end credits, then The Grudge 3 is the perfect movie for you.
The problem with The Grudge as a franchise is that its original idea is one-dimensional at best, which begets one-dimensional characters and one-dimensional stories. Smith does her best to invest Dr. Sullivan with some genuine substance, but in a film where the pale Asian lady comes to get you and you can't fight or run away, it's unfortunately wasted effort. Ditto Sirtis' woefully anemic cameo as a neighbor in the building who meets her death, I think, because she's nice to the sick little girl who's nice to the pale Asian boy whose voice is replaced by a cat's meow.
The other actors largely fail to provide any kind of depth to or concern for their characters, but Brad Keene's script is so dumb and simple—there is no outside world to speak of, and no real logic to what happens—that it's unfair to blame them for the film's overall failure. Ultimately, The Grudge 3 pretends to celebrate and advance the legacy of Ju-on and Asian horror in general, but what it really does it reveal how shallow and insubstantial are its ideas as a whole—and indicate that no matter how much money seems to prod their monsters and mythologies to live on, some franchises really deserve to die.