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Impressively terrifying chiller from the genre's master

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Album cover copyright (c) 2004 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

21st Century Hollywood certainly does like its remakes, not just of its own past triumphs (and disasters) but also of foreign movies, almost-always ending up with crassly inferior product.  One curious sub-genre is the remakes of popular modern Japanese horror films (whose appeal escapes me) - one of which is The Grudge, a remake of Takashi Shimizu's popular Ju-on - directed by Shimizu himself, just one year after the Japanese movie was released in 2003.  The film received solid reviews and did good business, so a sequel (to the American film - the Japanese one already had one) was inevitable, and at the time of writing is about to be unleashed onto the world.

The film's an extension of the old haunted house cliches, and delights in trying to present them in somewhat fresh new ways, something it succeeds in doing, to an extent.  It stars the lovely Sarah Michelle Gellar, who hasn't done much else since Buffy ended.  Musically, Shimizu found a safe pair of hands (almost certainly thanks to the involvement of Sam Raimi as producer) in Christopher Young, the most frequent and most capable horror movie composer of our day.

A quick look at the tracklist reveals Young's ambitious intentions - while there are eight separately-indexed pieces, they all come under one title ("Ju-on") and are clearly only intended to be listened to as one, with the composer intending this as a musical journey through chills and terror.  At first, the music doesn't seem to be as striking as his finest scores in the genre, but repeated listening continually reveals new aspects, new features which enrich the whole experience.  Young has written all sorts of horror movie scores, from subtle chills through to all-out Gothic bombardment, and this one falls very much towards the first extreme - it is clinically-cold, immersively chilling and quite incredibly effective.  The score does have a very melodic theme, but even this, in its piano arrangement, is quite plain in its intentions to convey a sense of terror, and the bulk of the score moves into more overt  psychological horror, with Young expertly carrying his music on a bed of strings - plucked, struck, played conventionally - with support from harp and percussion.

Most scores like this carry on with low-key strings and electronics, interlaced with occasional "big bursts" designed to shock and surprise, and what makes or breaks them is how well the composer integrates the elements to make them flow and seem as one - Young does it brilliantly.  Music builds up to the high points, and then organically regresses back down as the tension begins to ratchet up again following whatever release has taken place.  Few composers are so adept at writing music which is genuinely creepy on its own, but which isn't so avant garde as to be unpalatable to most ears - The Grudge is a fine example.  The score builds tension throughout, and features some miniature climaxes along the way, but in essence the whole is building up towards the grand twelve-minute seventh movement, in which Young exploits every device in his book, gradually and deliberately raising the temperature and bring the fear factor up to maximum proportions.  After this, pleasingly, the score's first and only hint of warmth comes in the reprise of the main theme, allowing the tension to subside and the score to end on a note which brings full closure.

The Grudge is a fine score which shows the full extent of the intelligence of thought which goes into Christopher Young's music - as I said earlier, it perhaps takes longer to appreciate than some of his more direct horror scores, but perseverance more than pays off.

Tracks ("Ju-on")

  1. i (5:21)
  2. ii (4:56)
  3. iii (3:47)
  4. iv (4:49)
  5. v (1:34)
  6. vi (4:39)
  7. vii (12:37)
  8. viii (4:24)