'JU-ON: Origins' Preview: Netflix series should take the haunting Japanese tale back to its original premise
For many, Ari Aster’s 2018 horror film ‘Hereditary’ was a game-changer. It was a movie that understood the diminishing marginal utility of jumpscares that have become an annoying trope in American horror films. There are many, many reasons why ‘Hereditary’ deserves praise. From Toni Colette’s unnerving performance to Aster’s use of subtle imagery to the tense build-up of the film. But the most notable one, and one that struck fans as unique, was how the film focussed on internalized traumas as the true horror, rather than the supernatural.
But ‘Hereditary’ was not the first to embrace this. It was Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On’ films. To boil it down to its essence, the story of ‘Ju-On’ and its many sequels and adaptations is one of a heartbreaking tragedy. Kayako, her son Toshio, and Toshio's pet cat were murdered (and brutally so) by her crazed husband Takeo, upon suspicion that Kayako was having an affair with another man.
Takeo broke Kayako’s neck and threw her down the stairs. He drowned Toshio and the cat. And finally, he killed himself. The broken neck and bones in Kayako’s body are significant. When she takes the form of the curse (born out of this senseless rage), her voice is an eerie guttural death rattle. And her broken limbs is the reason she doesn’t walk straight. She crawls.
It is, ultimately, a supernatural horror approach to explore the tragedy of male jealousy, domestic violence, and the awesome power of female rage. In Sam Raimi’s Hollywood adaptation of ‘Ju-On’, known as ‘the Grudge’, this idea remained the same, although it was mixed with some orientalism. After all, the story is about a Japanese woman.
But even in ‘The Grudge’ series of films, the first two of which were directed by Shimizu, what ultimately makes a case for the brilliance of the horror tale is how the curse of Kayako manifests itself. Sure, both ‘Ju-On’ and ‘The Grudge’ liberally used Kayako’s broken figure to scare the living s*** out of people. But what sets it apart from the run-on-the-mill horror factory is how the others are affected over time. Kayako doesn’t immediately kill. She affixes herself in others in the form of dark thoughts. In the form of malevolence. In the form of rage.
So, what can ‘JU-ON: Origins’ bring to the table that we haven’t already seen? For one, it’s not a Hollywood production. It’s a Japanese one that promises to focus on the true events of which is the inspiring base of the story. “Those are the beginnings of the ‘curse’ and will give a raw look at the chain of terror that befalls all of those who come into contact with the house,” claims the Netflix synopsis of the series.
Since Shimizu’s departure from ‘The Grudge’ films, a drop in the quality has been noticeable. ‘The Grudge 3’ or 2020’s ‘The Grudge’ (not a reboot) feels nothing like a J-horror film. Not even a kind of bastardization of it. Instead, they feel like your regular (read boring) Hollywood horror. While Shimizu is not involved in ‘JU-ON: Origins’, one can certainly hope for a return to the abject surrealism of J-horror.
One can only hope that when the series claims it will show the “true events”, it does not refer to the travesties that were Masayuki Ochiai’s 2014 and 2015 films ‘Ju-On: The Beginning of the End’ and ‘Ju-On: The Final Curse’ where Toshio was centered as evil incarnate and Kayako as his helper of sorts, taking everything away from Shimizu’s incredible original premise. Or perhaps, by “true events”, the series plans to take the narrative back from both those films.
‘JU-ON: Origins’ will premiere in the U.S. on July 3, only on Netflix.