Review: ‘Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,’ starring Chad Michael Murray

August 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chad Michael Murray in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman”

Directed by Daniel Farrands

Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington state, Utah and Florida, from 1974 to 1989, the true crime/horror film “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Real-life serial killer Ted Bundy goes on a murder spree targeting adolescent girls and young women, as law enforcement officials try to apprehend him. 

Culture Audience: “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching tacky and exploitative re-enactments of true crime cases.

Jake Hays and Holland Roden in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the type of vile and idiotic movie that seems to delight in exploiting the murder sprees of serial killer Ted Bundy, who was imprisoned and electrocuted for his crimes. Too bad there’s no “filmmaker jail” for people who’ve made careers out of dumping this type of horrific garbage into the world. Everything about this movie is laughably amateurish, but it’s actually not funny to see how disrespectfully these filmmakers have treated a real-life horror story where people’s lives were destroyed. The movie has very little regard for these victims because the movie’s focus is on glorifying their murderer as if he’s some kind of legendary horror character.

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” was written and directed by Daniel Farrands, whose early career included producing documentary content for fictional horror movies such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.” But now, as a feature-film director, he’s made it his specialty to do extremely cheesy dramatic versions of true crimes, beginning with 2018’s “The Amityville Murders” and continuing with 2019’s controversial schlockfests “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”

Next on Farrands’ list of true crime stories to annihilate into irredeemable oblivion are “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman,” both set for release in 2021. Since there’s no shortage of notorious murders, we can assume that Farrands will keep shamelessly churning out this type of disgraceful dreck until he decides to stop. Farrands is also a producer of the trashy movies that he directs.

True crime stories and stories about real murderers will continue to be made into scripted films and TV projects. But a lot of what’s worth watching depends on the quality of these projects and how respectful these projects are to the victims. You don’t have to be a psychic to know that there’s a massive difference in the quality of 2003’s “Monster” (for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying Aileen Wuornos) and the tabloid-like excrement of “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman.”

Other actors have portrayed Bundy before—most notably, Mark Harmon in the 1986 NBC miniseries “The Deliberate Stranger,” Billy Campbell in the 2003 USA Network movie “The Stranger Beside Me” and Zac Efron in the 2019 Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Luke Kirby portrays Bundy in the 2021 RLJE Films drama “No Man of God,” which is set for release on August 27, and got mostly positive reviews after the movie’s world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Chad Michael Murray is woefully miscast as Bundy in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and is easily the worst portrayal of this notorious serial killer.

In addition to his subpar acting, Murray is in a cheap-looking wig and creepy moustache for the majority of the movie, even though the real Bundy was clean-shaven for most of his crime spree. It doesn’t help that Murray and the rest of the cast are given cringeworthy dialogue that wouldn’t even pass muster in an amateur film made by teenagers in someone’s backyard. “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” offers no real insight into Bundy’s psychology at all, unless you consider it illuminating that he keeps repeating in the movie things like “I’m invisible” and “I am no one” when he commits his crimes.

Bundy’s murder sprees took place in many U.S. states, including Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, California and Florida. He is believed to have murdered about 100 women and girls, but he confessed to 30 and was ultimately convicted of murdering three females, as well as attempted murder and kidnapping for some of his victims who escaped. Most of his victims were sexually assaulted, even after death. There are plenty of books, documentaries and news reports that have the disgusting details of his crimes.

Because “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is a low-class, low-budget film, the movie only focuses on four law enforcement officials who worked on these cases of missing and murdered Bundy victims. Two of these law enforcement officials get the most screen time and all the credit in this movie for apprehending Bundy, who had escaped from jail in Colorado twice and was arrested for the last time in Florida after another killing spree. This movie is so highly inaccurate, the scene where Bundy is captured in Florida only has one cop going into the building to arrest him, and two other cops showing up later. In real life, Bundy’s fugitive status and notoriety would have warranted a large team of law enforcement to be there to take him down.

There’s a disclaimer before the movie’s opening credits that admits that parts of the movie were fabricated for dramatic purposes. Still, there’s so much that’s hard to take with how moronically everything is staged in the movie and how horrific the acting is. Holland Roden, who portrays real-life Seattle police detective Kathleen McChesney, could get a M.A. degree from this movie alone, if M.A. stood for “melodramatic acting.” Most of her performance looks like an unintentionally bad parody.

Kathleen is portrayed as the only woman on a small Seattle police task force that is investigating Bundy. She has to deal with two very sexist co-workers—a father-and-son lunkhead duo named Capt. Herb Swindley (played by Anthony DeLongis) and Shane Swindley (played by Sky Patterson), who assumes he’s eventually going to be promoted into his father’s job. The movie tries to make up for its rampant female exploitation by making Kathleen the biggest hero of the story.

Too bad they also make Kathleen say and do a lot of dumb things that no self-respecting cop would do, such as go without any backup into a building to arrest armed and dangerous Bundy. In an early scene, Kathleen is giving a lecture to other cops on the task force about the evidence gathered so far. Bundy had a type of victim whom he liked to target: adolescent girls and young women with long dark hair, usually parted in the middle.

Misogynistic cop Shane comments that some of the victims might have had other things in common: long legs and short skirts. He smirks that the victims were “the type that’s maybe out for a good time. Maybe they led this guy on. You know how the old saying goes: ‘If they’re advertising, they must be selling.'” Kathleen replies, “If stupidity were painful, Shane, you’d be in agony.” That’s what’s supposed to pass for “witty” dialogue in this brain-rotting film.

Meanwhile, FBI investigator/profiler Robert Ressler (played by Jake Hays) shows up at this Seattle police station, to inform the cops that the federal government is taking over the investigation. Capt. Swindley is angry about this change in command, because he thinks that the FBI is intruding on an investigation that he wants to lead. This toxic boss also makes a point of telling Robert that Kathleen was only hired as a token female, so that she could “soften up the witnesses” when needed.

Needless to say, any enemy of the Swindleys becomes a fast friend of Kathleen’s. The rest of the movie’s “investigation” essentially just shows Robert and Kathleen working on the case, even though in reality, there were dozens of law enforcement officials (federal, state and local) who were involved in investigating all of Bundy’s widespread crimes. Just because a movie has a low budget to hire a relatively small number of actors doesn’t mean that a movie has to lie about the truth.

In real life, Robert Ressler was credited with coming up with the term “serial killer.” However, this movie makes it look like it was Kathleen McChesney’s idea, and she generously let Ressler take all the credit for it. The scene is badly written as Kathleen comparing serial killers (originally called sequence killers) to serials on television, “because they leave people wanting more. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

Except that it’s law enforcement’s job to stop these serial killings, so that these murders shouldn’t be a “never-ending cycle” from the same person. In response to her asinine comment, Robert says to Kathleen, “You’re going to make one hell of an agent someday, McChesney!” In real life, McChesney eventually did join the FBI to great success, but it’s an insult to her that she’s portrayed as such an over-the-top drama queen in this movie. (By contrast, Hays’ portrayal of Robert Ressler is so bland, it makes barely an impression at all.)

The movie makes Kathleen look like she’s trying to be in Charlie’s Angels, because her long, flowing red hair is worn unrestrained and styled like an actress. In real life, cops who have very long hair usually have to wear their hair pinned up or pinned back while on the job, because long hair can get in the way of their vision if they have to run or fight. Long hair worn unrestrained also makes it easier for an assailant to attack by pulling the hair. It’s standard police procedure to wear long hair in a restrained way, but don’t expect this movie to care about a lot of realistic details.

Bundy’s kidnappings, assaults and murders are filmed just like a violent horror movie, but the filmmakers surprisingly had some restraint by not really showing a lot of the actual physical impact when Bundy bludgeons someone to death. The gruesome sound editing gives people enough of an idea of what’s going on during these blood-soaked scenes. The sexual assaults are not as explicit as some people might think they would be. However, there’s still plenty of disturbing violence that will nauseate people who get easily squeamish.

Even though there are horror movies that are much more graphic with blood and gore than this film, what’s offensive about “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is that it treats the victims as just boxes to check off in Bundy’s “to do” list. The movie re-creates two of his most well-known methods to lure his victims into his Volkswagen Beetle: He either pretended to have an injured arm or injured leg and asked for help near his car, or he pretended to be an undercover cop who told the victim that he saw someone try to break into her car and she needed to come with him to the police station to file a report.

However, the movie makes some of these scenarios pathetically unrealistic. In the movie’s opening scene—which takes place on October 18, 1974, at a pizza place in Midway, Utah—two young female friends (who are in their late teens) become Bundy victims. Their names are Jill (played by Gianna Adams) and Melissa (played by Julianne Collins), and they both encounter Bundy separately, within minutes of each other. One of the pals avoids getting harmed, while the other one doesn’t.

Jill has gone outside to smoke a cigarette, when she sees Bundy (using crutches to fake a leg injury) in the pizza place’s back parking lot. He looks very suspicious, because he’s wearing a face covering from his nose down, like a burglar would. Bundy asks for Jill’s help in picking up his car keys, which are on the ground. And when she hands the keys to him, he drops the keys again—this time, underneath his car. And Jill still falls for this obvious ruse. Her friend Melissa comes out of the pizza place, just minutes later.

Here’s the thing: In real life, Bundy didn’t cover his face like that when approaching victims, because he wanted to catch the victims off guard by gaining their trust. He also told them his real first name. That’s how over-confident he was in not getting caught. It ended up being his undoing when one of his victims escaped and testified against him. And several women who didn’t fall for his scams also reported his suspicious activities to law enforcement.

Another more ridiculous scenario is staged in the movie in a nighttime scene that takes place on October 31, 1974, in American Fork, Utah. Bundy is driving in his Volkswagen Beetle on a secluded road that’s deserted except for a young woman named Laura (played by Gabrielle Haugh), whom he follows and asks, “Need a lift?”

She immediately yells at him, “Fuck off and die!” He gets angry, stops the car, and runs after her. And instead of running toward an area where people will be, Laura runs into a dark greenhouse, thereby making it easy for Bundy to find her in that enclosed space. It’s so predictably stupid.

The movie also depicts Bundy’s abduction of the real-life Carol DaRonch (played by Olivia DeLaurentis) on November 8, 1974, in Murray, Utah. This time, Bundy uses his undercover cop scam in this kidnapping. Carol mistakenly gets in his car, instead of following him in her own car. Carol manages to escape but not before Bundy hits her on the head with a crowbar. He lets out a howl of frustration that might make people laugh at how terrible Murray’s acting is in this scene.

It gets worse. Bundy’s real-life obsession with violent pornography is depicted in the movie in ways that you can’t un-see, such as Bundy masturbating to this type of porn, which he looks at in magazines. The movie doesn’t show anything extremely explicit—just quick images of scantily clad female body parts, but no actuall full-frontal nudity. If you waited your whole life to see Chad Michael Murray as a vicious serial murderer in a movie where he’s shown getting off on sleazy snuff porn, then “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the movie for you.

At one point, just like in real life, Bundy (using the alias Chris Hagen) is shown renting a room at a mostly female boarding house near the Florida State University campus, after the second time he escaped from jail in Colorado. The boarding house’s manager Dottie (played by Alice Prime) was an aspiring fashion designer and still keeps many nude female mannequins inside the house. You know what comes next: There are scenes where Bundy is alone with the mannequins, and he starts kissing the mannequins like the pervert that he is. It’s implied that he does other things to the mannequins besides kiss them.

And then it turns into a weird hallucinatory scene (complete with psychedelic red lighting) of Bundy imagining himself rolling around on a bed with three hooded women dressed in dominatrix gear, while one of the women hits him with a club. At the end of the scene, it’s shown that Bundy actually took some of the house’s mannequins and was role playing this sex scene with the mannequins, which are now dismembered.

Horror film “scream queen” Lin Shaye embarrasses herself in her unhinged performance as Louise Bundy, Ted’s biological mother who comes across as having disturbing psychological problems of her own, except that she’s not a murderer. A famous true story about Ted is that he found out a dark family secret when he was a young man: The woman he thought was his older sister was actually his mother, who gave birth to him out of wedlock, and his mother’s parents raised him as their own son.

In the movie, Louise hints that Ted was born from incest rape by Louise’s abusive father, although in real life there was never any concrete evidence presented to prove who Ted’s real biological father was. Louise says like a woman possessed, “Father used to say that Ted was conceived in hell. I suppose that would make him the devil!” Louise is in the movie for just two scenes—both with her being interviewed by Kathleen and Robert. The second scene is one of the worst in this bottom-of-the-barrel trash dump of a movie.

If you still have the stomach to watch this movie until the very end (which includes a ludicrous re-enactment of Ted Bundy’s 1989 death by electrocution at the age of 42), you will learn nothing new or interesting about this notorious criminal, his victims or the real story of how he was caught by law enforcement. The only thing you will learn is that this movie will surely hold the title of the worst movie ever made about Ted Bundy. This isn’t just like watching a train wreck. It’s like watching a nuclear bomb of extremely bad taste and putrid filmmaking.

Dark Star Pictures and Voltage Pictures released “Ted Bundy: An American Boogeyman” in select U.S. cinemas (through Fathom Events) for one night only on August 16, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital, VOD and DVD is on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Get Gone,’ starring Lin Shaye, Weston Cage Coppola, Robert Miano and Bradley Stryker

January 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bailey Coppola and Lin Shaye in “Get Gone” (Photo courtesy of Cleopatra Entertainment)

“Get Gone”

Directed by Michael Thomas Daniel

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional rural town of Whiskey Flats, Oregon, “Get Gone” has a cast of American characters who are predominantly white, with a few characters who are African American and Asian.

Culture Clash: A low-budget slasher flick, “Get Gone” shows the conflicts that arise between a sinister backwoods family and anyone who dares to go to the remote area where the family lives.

Culture Audience: Even the most avid horror fans will have a hard time sitting through this poorly made film that isn’t very scary.

Robert Miano in “Get Gone” (Photo courtesy of Cleopatra Entertainment)

Ripping off more than a few ideas from the 1980 “Friday the 13th” film (the first film in the “Friday the 13th” series), the horror flick “Get Gone” is a chore and a bore to watch. And it has nothing to do with the movie’s obviously low budget, because there are plenty of low-budget films that have better-than-average direction and writing. (For example, Oren Peli’s first “Paranormal Activity” movie, which is still the best in the “Paranormal Activity” horror series, was reportedly made for only $15,000.) “Get Gone,” written and directed by Michael Thomas Daniel, looks like a student film that would barely get a passing grade at any top-notch film school. As bad as the movie is, it would be somewhat redeemable if the film could be in the “so bad it’s funny” category, but “Get Gone” has almost no sense of humor. Some of the acting is more painful to watch than the movie’s unrealistic murder scenes.

The “Get Gone” plot is pretty simple: An elderly couple—Don Maxwell (played by Robert Miano) and Mama Maxwell (played by Lin Shaye)—live with their two adult sons in a secluded house in the backwoods of the fictional small town of Whiskey Flats, Oregon. And they’re mad as hell. The Maxwell parents have been living on the property for more than 30 years. But now, fracking companies have been drilling in the area, and the owner of the property wants the Maxwells to move.

The state of Oregon has also been battling with the Maxwells for years to leave the property, which is a state game refuge that prohibits hunting. The state claims that the Maxwells have been living on the property illegally, but the Maxwells obviously don’t agree. In the film’s opening scene, a fracking company official named Rico (played by Rico Anderson) has the unpleasant task of telling Don and Mama Maxwell that they’ve run out of time to stay on the property, and that it won’t be long before some men will come over to evict the Maxwells for good.

Meanwhile, there’s a viral video that has started an urban legend that visitors to the property have been disappearing and have probably been killed. (You know where this is headed.) It isn’t long before Hoax Busters, a group whose specialty is debunking urban legends, have traveled from out of town and gathered in the area’s local saloon. The five Hoax Busters people at the saloon are a boss in his 40s named Grant (played by Bradley Stryker) and four of his underlings who are in their 20s: nervous Abbey (played by Emily Shenaut), sassy Connie (played by Caitlin Stryker), wisecracking Kyle (played by Cory Crouser) and arrogant Scott (played by Luke B. Carlson).

They’re all are going to the woods for a “team-building trip” for a few days, but they’re really there to prove that the urban legend about the area is a hoax. They tell one of the saloon patrons that they’re going to the game refuge, and the local guy tells them that the people in the area don’t like tourists. Two of the young people from the Hoax Busters tourist party—Rene (played by Brittany Benita) and Tommy (played by Tristan David Luciotti)—are already hiking in the wooded area, when they’re startled to see a bearded man in his 20s, who gives them a menacing stare and growls at them: “Get gone.”

Back at the saloon, the group has a tour guide named Craig Eubanks (played by Adam Bitterman), who shows up to take them on the tour. Craig is a weird mix of goofy and cocky. His smarmy aura indicates that he’s willing to break the law for the right price. Rico shows up at the saloon and warns Craig and the tour group not to go on the private property where the Maxwells live. (But of course, we all know that warning won’t be heeded.)

Rico then tells them about the Maxwell family history and why the Maxwells are so bitter: The fracking poisoned the water, causing the Maxwell kids to have an unnaturally white pigment to their skin when they were born—and who knows how the poisoned water could’ve affected them mentally. It’s one of many plot holes in the movie’s script, which doesn’t explain why only the Maxwells were affected by the drinking water and not the other people in the area who presumably drank the same water.

Before the tour group heads up to the area, their colleagues Rene and Tommy in the woods have the misfortune of witnessing the Maxwell sons—older brother Patton (played by Weston Cage Coppola), who was the bearded man seen earlier, and his mute, mask-wearing brother Apple (played by Bailey Coppola)—react violently when two of the fracking company workers confront the brothers. Let’s just say that a scythe and a rope are used as murder weapons, and the Maxwell sons are not the ones who end up dead.

In fact, much like “Friday the 13th” villain Jason Voorhees (another mute, mask-wearing serial killer who came from a secluded, wooded area), Apple is able to survive wounds that would kill a person in real life. It should come as no surprise that this death-defying ability will become apparent in the obligatory scene where someone we’re supposed to think has been killed isn’t really dead after all. It’s become such a cliché in slasher flicks, that entire film franchises have been built on these type of fake death scenes.

“Get Gone” is such an amateur film that when the scythe is used to hack someone to death, there isn’t even any blood spatter. And the Maxwell brothers’ skin pallor is described in the movie as being like an albino. But the makeup for the film is appallingly sloppy, because it just looks like white powder haphazardly coated on the skin instead of a convincing-looking skin condition. Furthermore, the acting is incredibly stilted and awkward in scenes that are supposed to be suspenseful. There are tacky homemade videos on YouTube that are scarier than “Get Gone.”

Since movies like this are supposed to have a dead body count, it isn’t long before the rest of the people in the Hoax Busters tour group arrive by van in the wooded area, where they plan to camp out for a few days. Craig, their obnoxious guide, orders them to hand over their phones, which he gives to the van driver, who drives off with the phones. (Of course he does, because why would people in a horror movie who are going to a remote area for the first time with a creepy guy they’ve never met before need their phones in case of an emergency?) As one of the guys in the group says, they want to see if the “mythic albinos” really exist.

Sadly, the amateur filmmaking of “Get Gone” leaves one to wonder: What is scream queen Shaye (who’s best known for the “Insidious” films series) doing in this embarrassing mess? She’s done many horror B-movies before, but nothing that sinks to this level of awful. She didn’t do this movie for the money, because “Get Gone” obviously had an incredibly low budget. Maybe she owed someone a favor. Her agent certainly wasn’t doing her any favors by letting her sign on to this terrible project, which luckily for her won’t be seen by very many people.

How bad are the lines that Shaye has to utter in this movie? Here’s an example of what her Mama Maxwell character says when she rants to a visitor about the persecution she says her family has endured: “There are a lot of mean people. I mean mean! You know what I mean when I say ‘mean’?”

And yes, the Coppola actors in this movie are from that Coppola family: Weston Cage Coppola is the elder son of Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage. Bailey Coppola is the son of Christopher Coppola, who is one of Nicolas Cage’s siblings. And they’re all related to Oscar-winning filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola. Maybe “Get Gone” is Weston and Bailey’s way of proving to the world that they’re really not using the family name to get into quality movies.

Horror is not a movie genre that typically gets Oscars and other prestigious awards. People already know that it’s not a genre that appeals to film snobs. But even horror fans expect a certain level of competent acting, directing and storytelling that “Get Gone” doesn’t deliver. In this day and age where independent filmmakers have more access to affordable equipment now than in previous decades, and people have more entertainment choices than ever before, there’s really no good excuse to take the lazy way out and make a garbage movie that’s a waste of people’s time.

Cleopatra Entertainment will release “Get Gone” in select U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020, and on VOD on January 28, 2020.

Review: ‘The Grudge’ (2020), starring Andrea Riseborough

January 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Andrea Riseborough in “The Grudge” (2020) (Photo by Allen Fraser)

“The Grudge” (2020)

Directed by Nicolas Pesce

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the United States and briefly in Japan, this reimagining (and third version) of the Japanese horror movie “The Grudge” has a predominantly white cast playing mostly American characters, with some representation of Asian, Latino and African American characters.

Culture Clash: A supernatural ghost story, the main plot involves the conflict between living humans and the evil spirits that cause murder and mayhem. A minor subtext is the movie characters’ varying levels of superstitions and beliefs in the paranormal.

Culture Audience: “The Grudge” will appeal primarily to horror fans who like scary stories to stick to a certain formula and don’t mind if a movie takes long stretches to build suspense.

Andrea Riseborough in “The Grudge” (2020) (Photo by Allen Fraser)

A lot has changed in the horror-movie landscape since Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu wrote and directed his classic 2002 film “Ju-on: The Grudge.” Shimizu directed Hollywood versions that were a remake (2004’s smash hit “The Grudge”) and an inferior sequel (2006’s “The Grudge 2”). While the aforementioned movies took place primarily in Japan, and the first two Hollywood versions were rated PG-13, the 2020 Hollywood version of “The Grudge” (with Nicolas Pesce as writer/director) takes place almost entirely in the United States and is rated R.  If you’re wondering why this movie is rated R instead of PG-13, it’s because the death scenes are bloodier and gorier. (Don’t watch this movie if it’s too disturbing for you to see a child being murdered.) But having more graphically violent killings doesn’t necessarily make a horror movie better or scarier.

Movie audiences now have much higher standards than when the first “Grudge” movies were released. Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele, who is the reigning king of writing and directing horror films, has been offering up biting social commentaries in his movies that go beyond the usual horror tropes of murdered people and good versus evil. “The Grudge” is Pesce’s third feature film, and he has some way to go before he can reach the level of storytelling talent shown by Peele and other horror filmmakers such as Ari Aster and Jennifer Kent, who all began making movies around the same time as Pesce. Peele’s blockbuster success indicates there’s a huge appetite for R-rated, original horror movies that do something a little different than expected. Sam Raimi (director of the first three “Spider-Man” movies, “Evil Dead” and “Drag Me to Hell”) is a producer of all of the Hollywood versions of “The Grudge,” so it’s disappointing that he’s behind a horror movie as boring as this one.

As it stands, the 2020 reimagining of “The Grudge” breaks no new ground whatsoever. The movie takes place from 2004 to 2006, which is how outdated the horror writing seems to be for this film. In between long stretches of the movie’s under-written characters looking morose, shocked or confused, there are predictable and not-very-frightening jump scares. Pesce also has a thing for showing rotting, decaying or burned flesh with flies buzzing around (even in the butcher section of a grocery store), since those images show up numerous times in the movie. The cinematography from Zack Galler is gloomy and foreboding in all the right places, but there’s so much “been there, done that” to the film that almost nothing in this movie feels original.

You don’t have to see the previous “Grudge” movies to know that this is yet another horror film about an evil spirit taking over a home, and the body count starts to increase when the spirit goes on a vengeful murder spree. “The Grudge” is one of many horror film franchises that have used this trope, including “The Amityville Horror,” “Poltergeist,” “The Ring,” “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”/”Annabelle” movies. If you’ve seen any of these films, you can know what to expect from the 2020 version of “The Grudge.”

Switching the location from Japan to the United States (in the fictional suburb of Cross River, Pennsylvania) does little to make the 2020 version of “The Grudge” more interesting. In fact, it makes the movie even more generic than the previous “Grudge” movies (which took place in Tokyo in the 2004 film and Tokyo and Chicago in the 2006 sequel), because Cross River is indistinguishable from the many other similar, nondescript American suburbs that are the locations of countless other horror films. Pesce should be commended for not following the horror-movie cliché of having a female protagonist who’s a nubile woman in her late teens or 20s with not much adult life experience. However, Andrea Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon character (a police officer who’s in her 30s) is so hollow and underdeveloped that Riseborough’s considerable acting talent is wasted.

At the beginning of the film, it’s 2006, and Muldoon (Pesce didn’t give her or any of the other police officers a first name) is grieving the loss of her husband, who died of cancer three months before. She and her pre-adolescent son move to Cross River to get a fresh start. Immediately upon arriving in Cross River, Muldoon is intrigued by a case from 2004, in which a Cross River woman named Fiona Landers (played by Tara Westwood) murdered her husband Sam (played by David Lawrence Brown) and their underage daughter Melinda (played by Zoe Fish) in their home before committing suicide. In the film’s opening scene, Fiona is seen in Tokyo talking in a panic on the phone, because she’s clearly spooked by something, and she says she can’t wait to come home to the United States. (And there you have the thread between the previous “Grudge” movies and this one.)

It’s also obvious from this script with too many plot holes that Pesce would have benefited from better research of real-life police work. Muldoon’s partner Detective Goodman (played by Demián Bichir) was one of the two detectives who arrived at the Landers crime scene and assigned to investigate the case (remember, this is fairly small city), but he says that he was too scared and superstitious to ever go inside the house where the murder took place. You don’t have to be a cop expert to know that kind of incompetent investigator wouldn’t last long as a homicide detective. Muldoon, however, doesn’t bat an eye when Goodman tells her that he never went inside the crime scene. It’s explained later in the movie why Goodman was intuitive enough to know that if he went in the house, he might be “cursed,” but it’s a shaky explanation that does little to bolster the very thin plot.

Meanwhile, Pesce tries to fill out the story by inserting some unnecessary subplots that are shown as flashbacks to what happened to the people who lived in the house after the murders. A married couple in the film—Peter and Nina Spencer (played by John Cho and Betty Gilpin)—also have a connection to the house. Peter and Nina have a real-estate business together, and they’re the first people to buy and move into the house after the murders. Peter must be the dumbest real-estate agent in Pennsylvania, because he’s unaware of the recent murder-suicide tragedy at the house, which would undoubtedly be one of the first things a real-estate agent would know in buying or selling property.

When he shows up at the house to close the deal, he sees a sad, sick-looking girl with no parents around, and she starts bleeding from the nose, so Peter goes in the house and helps stop her nosebleed. Of course, the viewers already know who this girl and her parents are. Peter goes in the house and calls her father (because we’re supposed to believe that dead people can do real-estate deals to sell the house they were murdered in), gets the father’s voice mail (of course), expresses confusion over why the father missed the appointment, and tells him that his daughter has a nosebleed but that she should be just fine. (Really?)

Peter and Nina (who’s pregnant) have recently found out that their unborn child will likely be born with a crippling disease, and Nina has to decide whether or not to continue with the pregnancy. There seems to be no other reason to put that medical drama in the story other than to make Peter and Nina a more sympathetic and tragic couple, considering what happens to them later in the movie. (This movie’s trailer pretty much gave away that things do not end well for Peter and Nina.)

Another pair of unlucky residents of the house are William and Faith Matheson (played by Frankie Faison and Lin Shaye), a couple who’ve been married for 50 years. Faith has a terminal disease, which has gotten worse after they moved into the house in 2005. A distraught William has consulted with euthanasia specialist Lorna Moody (played by Jacki Weaver) to find out if Lorna can use her services on Faith. When Lorna meets her, Faith is definitely acting crazy, because she says likes to play peekaboo with her imaginary friend Melinda. It’s no surprise that Lorna quickly decides that Faith is mentally unfit to consent to euthanasia. You can easily guess where this subplot goes.

Meanwhile, as Muldoon becomes more obsessed with the Landers murder case, she starts seeing menacing ghosts that look exactly like the dead Landers family. She also finds out that Goodman’s former cop partner Detective Wilson (played by William Sadler), who investigated the case with Goodman, has since been put in in a psychiatric institution. Naturally, she tracks him down and interviews him. And because she already decided to enter the empty house to investigate this closed case on her own, we all know what that means.

One of the biggest complaints that movie fans have about the industry is that there are too many unnecessary remakes and reboots. Unfortunately, the 2020 version of “The Grudge” is an example of a remake that should not have attempted a comeback.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Screen Gems released “The Grudge” in U.S. cinemas on January 3, 2020.

 

 

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