The original Ju-On (itself a remake of a popular low-budget made-for-TV movie) took the Japanese horror film about as far as it could go in its current creepy form. It was a great movie, but was flawed on several counts: it was too long and the plot was confusing as it jumped backwards and forwards in time trying to create a moebius strip of terror.
Ju-On 2 begins with a famous Japanese actress Kyoko Harase (Noriko Sakai), known as the “Queen of Horror”, driving home with her boyfriend, Masashi, after appearing on a chat show. They are discussing Kyoko’s pregnancy when they hit something in the strangely deserted road. Masashi investigates and it’s only a black cat. If you’ve seen the first movie, you’ll know that creepy kid Toshio had a black cat, and sure enough his ghostly appearance causes the car to crash leaving Masashi in a coma and causing Kyoko to lose her unborn child.
As with the first movie, Ju-On 2 follows the main characters in their own vignettes as their contact with the haunted house in the Japanese suburbs causes them to die in supernatural ways. Luckily the plot is more focussed this time, even though it still moves forwards and backwards in time. It centres around a documentary being made about the haunted house, with the producer inviting Kyoko to make a guest appearance. One by one, the cast, crew and extras are picked off by the angry spirits of Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) and his mother Kayako (Takako Fuji).
Compared to the first movie, director Takashi Shimizu has learned some lessons about pacing and has produced a movie which is better in almost every respect. He’s watched his Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) for tips and hints on creating fear and his David Lynch (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) for building tension with music cues.
Ju-On 2 is a more imaginatively surreal movie, with some darkly original visions, such as Kayako on a ceiling, hair spreading like wild ivy and twisting into deadly nooses. The audio effects are amazing with Kayako’s croaky groan once again making your hair stand on end and your throat go dry.
Takashi has clearly progressed as a director and having produced a great movie, that was clearly a derivative of the current Japanese horror scene, has built on the formula with something more original and nightmarish.
Some rumour sites claimed that Ju-On 2 rehashed 40 minutes from the first movie, but all the footage is original and tightly integrated into the plot. Unlike the first movie, there is not an ounce of fat in Ju-On 2. It also leaves the door wide open for a Ju-On: The Grudge 3 with an intriguing ending. Let’s hope Takashi Shimizu hurries up with with his Hollywood flirtation to see where he takes the franchise next.