“…Once you have become a part of it, it will never let you go.”
Caregiver in a foreign country, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tends to a selectively mute woman named Emma (Grace Zabriskie). The house in Tokyo has a dark past, and when Karen realizes the secrets within, she tries to stop the forces in the dwelling before it is too late.
She is out of her element. The Grudge does not offer enough screen time with one character, even though Karen is our heroine. Instead, a shaky plot suggests that the home where Karen tends to Emma is cursed by the evil energy of the circumstances surrounding the first family that lived there.
Japanese culture informs the belief that people and places contain energy; this energy can be shifted to other beings or to other places. This belief has carried into spiritual practices such as feng shui, and it is a common discussion topic on ghost hunter shows, but is it real? Can an event influence future inhabitants of a specific space? Maybe, but this is a weak explanation for the situation that brings Karen to her fate. Considering what this blog is all about, I am going to explore the idea that The Grudge all starts – and ends – with Karen.
A catch-all phrase, nervous breakdowns are a psychiatric smorgasbord of varying symptoms that all describe an extreme reaction to stress. Perhaps Karen’s response to the house where Emma lives is actually a manifestation of Karen’s own stress.
One possible symptom of nervous breakdowns is hallucinations. If Karen’s eyes play tricks on her, maybe she sees a ghost with long, dark hair (that makes a very uncomfortable creaking noise), and maybe she thinks she sees it. If we’re taking the stance that Karen is under undue stress, then the story goes like this: Emma dies on Karen’s first day working alone. Even if she is not responsible for the death, Karen feels responsible for it. She thinks she sees a ghost and is committed for evaluation to a local hospital.
Karen moves abroad to appease her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr). She works in a lousy job where she is apprehensive about working by herself. Then, she works alone for the first time and her patient dies. Karen’s stress creates a ghost story, fabricating a watered-down love story gone wrong and weaving the house’s tragic history into Karen’s own tragic narrative. When the house summons Karen’s boyfriend – the source of Karen’s resentment because he is the reason she moved in the first place – it is up to Karen to start the fire that will destroy her rage once and for all. It is interesting that Karen’s brilliant idea to burn down the house only comes to her when her boyfriend enters its walls, and not before that. Ghosts may be the culprit, but Karen’s actions are awfully convenient in the context of a nervous breakdown.