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In The Grudge, exchange student Sarah Michelle Gellar has to earn her Social Welfare credit the hard way: After a young home-care worker disappears on her rounds, Buffy the Bedpan Cleaner is dispatched to the Tokyo abode of a family of American expats, where she soon discovers a catatonic old lady, a creepy little kid taped into a closet, and the trash-strewn aftermath of—what else?—a spectral attack. Both tighter and more kinetic than director Takashi Shimizu’s confusingly episodic Ringu rip-off, Ju-On, this self-remade Ring rip-off benefits from an Americanized screenplay that doesn’t give away the whole backstory in the first five minutes. This, of course, is crucial for a haunted-house romp that relies mostly on bloodless thrills: The Grudge’s bathed-in-bluish-gray set pieces often culminate with characters cowering in corners or beds, something that won’t provide much in the way of heebie-jeebies for folks raised on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead—or even their remakes. And things get progressively less scary once Gellar’s saucer-eyed Karen adopts the role of amateur gumshoe, figuring out the house’s evil history via a quick online search à la Willow and the Scoobies. Even worse, soon thereafter, a professional but hapless detective (Ryo Ishibashi) reasserts the ridiculous trailer spiel—“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born”—as if he’s explaining some intractable law of thermodynamics. At least he has the decency to add, “I’m sorry.” And Gellar’s character is sorry, too—sorry that she didn’t spend the semester in a country where the curses make some sense. But the biggest problem with The Grudge isn’t incoherence: The film’s most powerful buzz kill is that Shimizu (who wrote the original screenplay for Ju-On but handed the adaptation job to first-timer Stephen Susco) ultimately expects viewers to be horrified and repulsed by a sexual appetite unsatisfied within the confines of monogamy. Now, that might very well scare the bejesus out of the Karl Rove set, but the nonpuritanical will probably need to seek their thrills elsewhere.—Brent Burton