Nothing to bear

“The Grudge”Columbia PicturesDirected by Takashi ShimizuWritten by Takashi ShimizuScreenplay by Stephen SuscoStarring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, and Bill PullmanOpens in theaters todayTwo out of five stars

Well, it isn’t “The Ring” redux. And if you’re expecting a shrink-wrapped, never-before-seen modicum of horrordom, you’re in for a disillusioning shock.

Director Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” is merely an Americanized doppelganger, a direct transcription of “Ju-on,” the mild Japanese horror flick that Shimizu wrote and directed back in 2000.

This new “Grudge” actually retrogresses from “Ju-on’s” laughable spook precedent. Rather than innovate ANY farm-fresh scares, “The Grudge” reprocesses lame techno-thrills and hopelessly outdated chills, the bulk of which have been gleaned from contemporary horror classics.

Here’s an unassuming observation: If you want to effectively creep out an audience, recycling scares is just bad policy.

In other words, ghost prank calls are no longer bloodcurdling-they’re blood-boiling. For the record, we all instinctively know what happens when feckless characters foolishly check cobwebbed, growling closets alone- and they’re always alone.

Why don’t they cluster in packs, like wolves? Rancorous ghosts never attack wolves.

Anyway, “The Grudge” begins with this ominous-and poorly translated-prologue: When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is left behind. Uh-oh.

Meet Karen (played by a disappointingly dull Sarah Michelle Gellar), an American exchange student studying social work in Tokyo. When one of her classmates doesn’t show up to care for an elderly American woman, Karen agrees to cover for her.

Within a seemingly benign split-level house, Karen stumbles upon a semi-catatonic, murmuring old bat, Emma (Grace Zabriskie).

Karen hears creaking and groaning upstairs. She goes to check it out (unaided, of course), and comes face to face with a terrifying apparition-a white-faced banshee whose shriek sounds like a torrent of bathwater sucking into a drain.

Something dreadful has happened in that house. Now, whosoever impinges on the vengeful ghouls’ property will be hunted down and slain by a lithesome, demonic female phantom, and a bizarre, meowing child ghost.

But what exactly occurred in that house? Amid incessant, almost insecure scare attempts, Shimizu tries to integrate a mystery into “The Grudge’s” tenuous plot. Most intuitive viewers will discern it quickly; it’s nothing earth-shattering. Let’s just say that certain characters are inextricably connected.

One enjoyable facet of “The Grudge” is its utter disregard for its characters. Nobody-not even Buffy-is safe from the vindictive ghost pair, who slaughter with proficiency. Sometimes it’s not even clear how they kill. They’re that dexterous. But more than anything else, it’s an ineffably beautiful experience to watch the invincible Bill Pullman succumb to a couple of dumb ghosts.

And even if you can’t derive any enjoyment from that, you have to hand it to Shimizu.

Only a filmmaker audacious enough to direct a creep-up-and-scare-’em movie would actually replicate his own film, and the same old scares as well.

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