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THE GRUDGE – Christopher Young

October 22, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

thegrudgeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The story of The Grudge has a long history. Originally conceived as a TV movie in Japan in 2000 by writer/director Takeshi Shimizu, he adapted his own work for the big screen in Ju-On in 2003. Having been earmarked for the American re-make treatment by producers Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert, Shimizu was once again approached to give life to his subject, thereby putting him in the unique position of being the director of the remake of the remake of his own original film! Essentially a haunted house story, The Grudge tells the tale of Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an American nurse in Japan who, after visiting a seemingly catatonic patient in a everyday suburban neighborhood, finds herself experiencing terrible visions: a pallid, fish-eyed little boy named Toshio, who is virtually silent except when he meows like a cat, is hiding in a cupboard upstairs – and worse still, a ghastly, shadowy specter is hovering over the prone body of the old woman. Despite Karen fleeing the house, she – and everyone else who it comes into contact with – find themselves being haunted by these unearthly presences. Could it be that the house itself is causing these manifestations? And, if so, does it have anything to do with the murder of a mother and son at the hands of their husband/father there years previously?

Christopher Young, despite having been typecast as a “horror composer”, has not actually tackled a film in the genre since Bless the Child back in 2000. Early in his career, his name was synonymous with cinematic shockers such as The Fly II and the Hellraiser series, but recently – whether consciously or otherwise – he has been steering clear of anything with horrific overtones. However, there is something about his style of writing that somehow keeps bringing him back into the fold. The Grudge illustrates that perfectly.

The delicate and eerie stylistics of Young’s writing always works wonders when it accompanies scary movies. His score for The Grudge revisits the style he adopted in scores such as Invaders from Mars and The Vagrant, in which he mixes soft, almost lullabyish string writing and music-box melodies with a great deal of orchestral expressionism and dissonance. Throughout his career, Young has embraced the musique concrete school of thought, using orchestral (and other) forces to create sounds and ambiences which suggest alien – and terrifying – subjects, and The Grudge is no exception.

Structured into eight un-named cues which flow to create what is in effect a single 40-minute piece, The Grudge veers from being thoughtful and introspective to embracing all-out orchestral warfare. Metallic percussion rattles in the orchestra’s nether regions. Strings shriek and skitter across the orchestra like a hive of angry insects. Synthesized sound effects add a layer of chilling horror over the whole thing. The carnage is counterbalanced by gently tinkling chimes, tolling bells, a soothing bed of violins, or general respite where the orchestra simply tacits for a few bars and allows the listener to get their breath back. The cumulative effect is one of continuous unease –shocking, undeniably effective, and occasionally brilliant.

The reason The Grudge sounds the way it sounds may be as much to do with the director, Takeshi Shimizu, as it does with Young’s own musical sensibility. Having now experienced a number of Japanese and other Asian horror movies in a cinematic setting, the conventional style of scoring them is to blur the lines between music and sound effects. Composers such as Kenji Kawai (who scored the original Japanese version of The Ring) and Shiro Sato (who scored the original Grudge) use synthesizers alongside a conventional symphony orchestra to create a wide range of creaks, scrapes, groans and stings to accentuate the on-screen terror. Young, cleverly, has taken this way of thinking and twisted it to fit his slightly more conventional Hollywood attitude. The end result, while not exactly enjoyable in a traditional sense, contains more creativity than one would otherwise give him credit for.

I can see where the music for The Grudge would have limited appeal. It’s not a big, demonstrative score in any way, and there is very little in the way of conventional melody or beauty. It’s also not especially pleasant to listen to – but that’s not really the point. The craftsmanship and intelligent way he uses his orchestra to create these kinds of unnerving sounds is more than enough to keep the more daring film music fan happy.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Ju-On 1 (5:21)
  • Ju-On 2 (4:56)
  • Ju-On 3 (3:47)
  • Ju-On 4 (4:49)
  • Ju-On 5 (1:34)
  • Ju-On 6 (4:39)
  • Ju-On 7 (12:36)
  • Ju-On 8 (4:24)

Running Time: 42 minutes 11 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6623 (2004)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Edited by Tom Milano. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by Christopher Young and Flavio Motalla.

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