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Ju-On: The Confusion

The original Japanese horror movie, Ju-On: The Grudge came out in 2002. I of course, being the pleb I am, didn’t see it, at that point.

I first saw the American remake, which came out in 2004. Back in those days, I was in college, Hastings and Blockbuster were active businesses, you could find a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive in most laptop computers, and my roommate would go home for most weekends. I would motor down to the Hastings Video in my ancient automobile-craft, rent a bunch of horror movies, and stow myself away on my dorm room bed with the lights off to scare the hell out of myself for 4-6 hours.

The early 2000s were something of a heyday for the kind of horror exemplified by Ju-On. Now, after the predictable cash grab of Sadako vs. Kayako, this horror style has become a bit of a joke. So, the Netflix series Ju-On: Origins, with its earnest treatment of the premise, comes as a bit of a surprise.

I watched this series with no expectations, and came away from the six episode first season with mixed feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like about it.

The episodes were all compelling enough for me to keep watching it, and at least for the first 3 or 4, the plot dropped me breadcrumbs of development sufficient to keep my interest. And then, there’s the characters.

The story revolves around at least 6 main characters, with at least 6 other minor ones. It’s kind of a lot – but by the end of the series, you can kinda see how they all fit together. The puzzle pieces fall into place gradually and I was pretty satisfied with how it was done.

If you’re familiar with high-profile Japanese events from the 1970s onward, you’ll recognize some of the newsworthy tragedies the series mentions. The incorporation of reality into fiction is something I’ve seen in more recent horror, and the creators of this series may have included these events in an effort to bring the Ju-On property into the modern era.

Now, as for the horror element itself, the verdict was a resounding “meh.”

The series only managed to give me genuine goosebumps a couple of times. For the most part, the scares were standard for the Ju-On series – the long-haired female ghost, the cat meow, the rattling slit-throat sound, the figure standing ominously in the background or walking down a hallway behind the protagonist.

And in a couple of cases, the scares were so absurd, I laughed out loud.

Also, since we’re talking about negative aspects now, despite the effort to include real-life events into the narrative, it falls a bit flat. They aren’t incorporated into the story so much as mentioned briefly in news reports on a TV playing somewhere in the scene. What they mean in the context of the story is not clear.

Could the writers be trying to build a comparison between the grudge curse inside the house and the strong emotions generated by the people involved in these real incidents? Perhaps…But to this barbaric American, the inclusion of current events just felt incidental rather than thematically significant.

As for the theme of the persistent grudge inhabiting the house, pulling people into its grasp, the series takes this idea a little further, implying the involvement of temporal abnormalities and overlapping realities. This is a genuinely interesting ghost theory, but unfortunately, one I have seen employed more effectively in The Haunting of Hill House – yet another Netflix series.

If you’ve been neglecting that series, raise your hand. Now, slap yourself in the face, and add it to your queue.

Now, I mentioned how earnestly the series seems to take itself, remember? For the most part, this is true; although, a couple of episodes have scenes where truly bizarre things happen. These moments jolted me out of the narrative and seemed to be either unnecessary attempts at frightening the audience or deus-ex-machina solutions to plot problems.

The conclusion seems to be a point of contention for a lot of viewers, if the internet is to be believed. In some ways, I agree. Plot threads for certain characters just seem to get cut off in order to either introduce new characters or to end a character arc quickly. The series conclusion seems to imply more than just spiritual temporal circularity, but also a time loop within the plot as well, which effectively changes the perception of some character interactions.

This can be great for re-watch potential, but without a satisfying conclusion – which for me, it wasn’t – it’s just frustrating. The questions they left unanswered were ones we can infer the answers to, and the rest were either dropped in favor of other plot threads or quickly resolved through an absurd contrivance.

Overall, the series feels like it was trying to do too many things at once – establish a connection of significance between the concept of the grudge ghost and real-life tragedies, follow a cast of characters through 15 years of dealing with the consequences of interacting with the house, and deepen the mythology of the curse itself – but none of those things were done particularly well.

I may have said too much at this point, but I don’t want to spoil anything, in case you want to give the series a try – don’t take my word as law. By all means, check it out if you’re a fan of Japanese horror.

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