Movies like Paranormal Activity makes me suspect that North American filmmakers kinda know what scares an audience, it's just their execution that stinks. When it comes to producing legitimately scary ghost movies, the Japanese have been way ahead of us for years. If you don't believe me then check out Ju-on: The Grudge from way back in 2002.
As it is with most great horror films: the premise here is deceptively simple. A horrible event happens in a nondescript-looking house and the leftover dark karmic residue manifests itself in the form of a vengeful spirit. Anyone foolish enough to venture inside the house is haunted by this entity until death comes, almost as a sweet relief.
Even though buckets of gore and flying limbs don't scare me anymore, barely-glimpsed, unexplained spiritual manifestations that haunt the hinterlands of a movie screen really gives me a bad case of what Buffy Summers used to refer to as "the wiggins". Thanks to a series of brilliantly-conceived set-ups, nerve-jangling sound effects and a restrained application of make-up and blood, Ju-on: The Grudge really has my number. The sly, throwaway glimpses of creepy kids and shadowy spirits loitering around the boundaries of any given scene never fails to freak me out.
Having said that, the Japanese certainly have their own unique way of storytelling, which can best be characterized as "disjointed". Now, assuming that something wasn't just lost in translation, it's a bit of a challenge to keep all of the characters, story threads and even chronological lapses straight. For example, there's a scene towards the end of the film when a girl ventures into the cursed house and witnesses the death of her own father which happened years prior. Dafuq?
I still maintain that this schizophrenic method of scripting actually helps the film instead of hinders it. It keeps the audience off-kilter and doesn't provide any of the hackneyed moments of respite that soft Western audiences have come to rely on after a big scare. If you're completely jaded with the usual "maniac with a hatchet" horror flick, Ju-on: The Grudge is an inspired and original take on the genre which will resonate with you long after it's over.