It's okay. I liked most of it. It falls apart at the end, but at least it only does so with a stupid plot rather than by degenerating into touchy-feely Hollywood mush as with The Grudge 2.
There were three Grudge movies in 2009, two from Japan and this American one. This is also the only Grudge to date that's not by Takashi Shimizu, although he's still credited as a producer. One thing that might give you pause is the fact that it's DTV (Direct To Video), but then again so were Shimizu's original Ju-ons back in 2000. DTV isn't the end of the world these days. A lot of good stuff doesn't manage to get a theatrical release, especially in the horror genre. Besides a low budget can sometimes almost be an advantage in horror, which is a completely different beast to something like the DTV action movie industry. Admittedly we're still working at the low end of the market and so you shouldn't be surprised to hear bad things about the likes of Vacancy 2, Boogeyman 3, Pulse 2 and 3, Feast 2 and 3 etc, but Grudge 3 struck me as being quite well done.
Firstly, the director's taking it seriously. His name's Toby Wilkins, he's from London but has been working in America since 1996 and I've been hearing praise for his previous film, Splinter. He's concentrating on mood and trying to avoid cheap scares, to the extent that he has considerably fewer shock moments than something like Ju-on: Shiroi Roujo (which I liked a lot). He's also avoiding exploitation. We see no real nudity, even in the scene where a naked woman gets pulled into a bath. They're not going apeshit with CGI. All this is good (except for the nudity).
As for the actors, they're not mega-stars, but they're dependable. That's better than one or two in Shiroi Roujo and almost everyone in Kuroi Shoujo, then. There's only one person here I'd heard of and that's Marina Sirtis, although obviously it's been a while since she was in Star Trek. She's now 55 and her character has arthritis, but she's still recognisable and she gets the film's most imaginative death scene. However the biggest name for horror fans is probably Shawnee Smith from the Saw films (which I haven't seen yet), while they've brought back child actor Matthew Knight from The Grudge 2. Don't get too attached to him.
Then there's the Japan stuff. Call me silly, but I was really happy to see that the franchise hadn't gone The Ring on us and cast off their Japanese roots. Personally I'd say the film's correct title is Ju-on: The Grudge 3, for instance, although you won't get many English-speaking websites agreeing with me there because they've written "Ju-on" in Japanese. There's a flashback recap of the story so far in the opening credits, after which we get three and a half minutes of a Japanese couple in Tokyo speaking Japanese without subtitles. That's a slightly odd choice, although obviously I was happy. The husband's a bit wooden, by the way, but he's not the one who's flying to Chicago. Unfortunately this is where we hit the film's big stupid problem, which is the character of the wife, played by Emi Ikehata.
Apparently Ikehata's the sister of Kayako, the evil ghost who's been killing people non-stop for the past ten years, and Ikehata's waited all this time to remember that she knows a magic ritual that can lay her sister's vengeful spirit to rest. Well, maybe it works if you pretend that only the American films happened. That's not the best bit, though. Ikehata flies to Chicago, only to hang around doing nothing until it's too late and there's almost no one left alive in the building. You see, she can't do the ceremony without the help of our Caucasian heroine and her little sister, despite the fact that when we actually get down to it, this "help" appears to involve sitting there and doing nothing (the heroine) and obediently having a drink (the little sister). So that's why she didn't do the ceremony years ago in Japan! She had to find the only two human beings on the planet who could sit there and do nothing in exactly the right way! This is a plot contrivance sufficiently hokey that for me it torpedoed the entire finale, although in fairness it's not impossible to come up with an explanation for this, if one hypothesises that the original Japanese ghosts might seem to have imprinted on this Western family in some way. I like the logic of the film's last twist, too.
It feels like a Ju-on film, despite being the first film in the franchise to take place in chronological order. It's the first R-rated American Grudge movie, which helps, although there's only one bit I'd actually call nasty and otherwise this isn't a particularly gory film. I particularly enjoyed the stuff with Takeo and the little girl, which if nothing else will give you the experience of being scared by Mr Potato Head. That was weird. Did he like her, then?
Takeo looks wrong, though. I assumed the director had stuck with the original child actor even though years had passed and he was now far too old for the role, yet bizarrely all the ghosts were recast for this film and so it would seem that Toby Wilkins specifically chose Shimba Tsuchiya. Is he blind, then?
Overall, I liked this film. It lost it for me in the third act, but even so it's still a serious, good-looking production that works better than Ju-on: Kuroi Shoujo. They shot it in Bulgaria, incidentally, both for the Tokyo and Chicago scenes. It has the odd moment of corn ("Dr Sullivan, you'd better get down here"), but those are isolated glitches in a film that's otherwise in good control of its tone. I jumped a few times when we glimpsed a ghost, which is after all the point of the exercise. It's quite low-key, but that's partly because they're making a virtue out of the low budget and doing their best to stay within the Chicago apartments we saw in The Grudge 2. I wouldn't have minded if they'd taken that even further, actually. It's better than the last American Grudge film, anyway.