Film

The Grudge 2 (2006)

Takako Fuji

Rethinking the very concepts of remake, sequel, and translation, The Grudge 2 is not a regular horror movie, or even a regular J-horror movie.


The Grudge 2

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Teresa Palmer, Takako Fuji, Ryo Ishibashi, Misako Uno, Shaun Sipos, Edison Chen
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-10-13 (General release)
Website
Trailer
I don't understand it. But it's creepy as hell.

--Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn)

When good girl Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) arrives at her mother's (Joanna Cassidy) home, all she gets is grief. Even before she reaches her mother's bedroom, Aubrey hears her wracking cough. In another movie, this would be a sure sign of mom's imminent demise, but in The Grudge 2, it's more an indication of her hatefulness and poor parenting skills. Miserable and mean, Mrs. Davis instantly berates her daughter for being late.

This reference to time as a linear phenomenon is deceiving. For Mrs. Davis, who will never rise from her bed, but only recur as an image of infirmity and baseless recrimination, time is meaningless, only a device with which to batter her daughter. For everyone else -- most certainly viewers -- time is broken and abstract. Such disturbance is thematic in Takashi Shimizu's remake of his own second Japanese film (as of 2006, he has directed seven iterations of the Ju-on/Grudge series). The primary horror here is a function of repetition: the film is a seeming jumble of repetitions and echoes that only makes narrative sense in retrospect. Except that "sense" is not really the effect.

Rethinking the very concepts of remake, sequel, and translation, The Grudge 2 is not a regular horror movie, or even a regular J-horror movie. It's ambitious, absurd, and aggravating in ways that most horror movies, designed to make money, can't afford to be. Taking up the theme of vengeance that has shaped all the films in the Ju-on franchise, this one sends the implacable ghost to several locations, seemingly at once (again, the time scrambling makes the precise order of events irrelevant: vengeance, it seems, is eternal). Most basically, the film offers three storylines. In Chicago, Trish (Jennifer Beals) has moved in with her new guy, Bill (Christopher Cousins), who has two children, Lacey (Sarah Roemer) and Jake (Matthew Knight), from a previous relationship. Lacey welcomes her, happy to be able to borrow her clothes (a minor point that nonetheless underscores a cultural blurring of temporal boundaries, with the elision of generational sensibilities), but Jake resents her. "I won't call you mom," he grumps. Trish remains sunny, urging her not-exactly-stepson to think of her not as a replacement but as another sort of parent altogether.

This family arrangement will repeat but also refract the original Grudge family (here the jealous/angry/frenzied partner doesn't quite climax, but instead faces the fury of his incensed and fearful victim). The Japanese family appears again as in grainy video images, signaling their pastness but also their perpetual loopness. The insanely jealous husband Takeo (Takashi Matsuyama), you'll recall (and see again here), breaks his wife Kayako's (Takako Fuji) neck and drowns his young, concave-chested son Toshio (Ohga Tanaka): the victims become the ghosts: white-faced, black-haired, screechy, and affiliated with the black cat that Takeo also kills/killed.

This particular act of brutality indicates the extent of Takeo's depravity for Miyuki (Misako Uno): "He was so sick," she reports to Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Allison (Arielle Kebbel), her classmates at the International High School in Tokyo, "He even killed the cat." The girls, dressed in plaid school uniform skirts with white knee socks and black neckties, are at "one of the most haunted houses in Japan," that is, Takeo's house. Now burned black (following the effort by Karen [Sarah Michelle Gellar] in The Grudge to burn it down and kill off the curse), it grants bullies Vanessa and Miyuki an occasion to frighten and so initiate new girl Allison.

The ritual is predictable and also repetitive, reusing and reordering the first plot. They lock Allison in the scary closet, where she sees Kayako's journal (the one with the eye visible through ripped pages) as well as Toshio's mewling, black-eyed ghost. Terrified, she escapes the closet, after her companions, also terrified, have run off and abandoned her. The screaming girls go on to suffer repeat hauntings from the ghosts -- scrawny-chalky Takio as well as his croaky, broken-necked mother. These abuses occur in the usual sorts of locations: Vanessa in the high school locker room/shower, Miyuki in the hotel room where she and her boyfriend expect to have sex (always a bad idea if you're in high school in a horror movie), and just about anywhere for poor, increasingly haggard Allison, the innocent victim whose righteous rage -- again -- carries across time and place, eating her up inside even as it afflicts anyone she touches.

Such visceral transmission of anger and fear affects Aubrey, as her story intersects with Allison's and Jake's. Though she hasn't spoken with her sister Karen in years, she does her mother's bidding and flies to Tokyo with the intention to "bring hr back." Karen's in the hospital here, her face still veiny-blotched from her last encounter with the ghosts; it appears that this film begins pretty much at the moment the first remake ends, Karen accused of setting the fire that killed her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr), and so, under close (but not close enough) watch by Tokyo police and doctors. No sooner do the sisters tearfully embrace at the hospital than the authorities swoop in to strap Karen to her bed, leaving her at the mercy of the ghosts she yet thinks she can vanquish ("I'm the only one who can stop her," she squeaks to Aubrey, as she's dragged away).

In mid-fret in the hospital waiting area, Aubrey is questioned by Eason (Edison Chen). A Hong Kong-born reporter and photographer who's been "covering" the ghost story for a couple of years now, he's also caught up in the vengeance loop, though he doesn't know it yet. On his own, he watches video tape of the first remake's tragic Detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi), describing an encounter even as he has one, which Eason rewinds more than once, until finally seeing Kakayo peering through a window at the back of the frame.

Like everyone else who's warned not to do it, Eason goes to The House (worse, he brings Aubrey with him), where he not only checks out the daunting closet but also takes pictures. This bad idea leads to a striking encounter with the ghosts in his dark room (red-lit, of course), where photos of the ghost grant it yet another dimension through which to move: it begins to move on the flat surface, then ook through the developing fluid, turning it black and inky like the occasional tub's water, rising from the pan to scare Eason into the usual wide-eyed paralysis. The dark room is transformed: every photo he has hanging to dry shows Kakayo's black-hair-covered visage.

For all its jump scenes, grim shadows, and anguished victims, The Grudge 2 isn't very scary. More abstract art than conventional horror cinema, it's more interested in parsing the idea of repetition, the basis and method of revenge. Rejecting formula by reconsidering formula, it is, perversely, singular.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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