Sadako vs. Kayako
The vengeful spirits of the Ring and Grudge series face off.
January 26th, 2017 (VOD)
Since the dawn of cinema, it’s been a time-honored tradition to pit our beloved horror heroes against one another. Have these mad grabs for theatre-goers’ dollars always worked? No. But let’s take a look at the latest evolution in these epic horror face-offs! There may still be hope for these crossover premises yet!
Sadako vs. Kayako. It’s the latest film which raises the question, “Who do you think would win?” And it finally brings the ladies to the ring (no pun intended). In this corner, we’ve got Sadako of Ringu (which spawned the English-language franchise The Ring). And over here, we’ve got Kayako of Ju-On (which spawned the English-language franchise The Grudge). Both frigthening spectres in their own right, but who is actually the most powerful? Will this new film answer these burning questions?
The film focuses more on the Ringu-side of this story – as two young college students Natsumi and Yuri (Aimi Satsukawa and Mizuki Yamamoto; respectively) happen upon a cursed VHS tape (which their urban legends professor Mr. Morishige – played by Masahiro Komoto – tells them about). We all know the story – watch the tape, get a phone call and days later, you’re dead at the hands of Sadako. As the girls and their professor look for ways to eradicate the curse – through a couple of different psychics – on the other side of town, a teenaged girl named Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) has recently moved in next door to the house of Kayako (the unsettled ghost from Ju-On). When these two groups of desperate and cursed people collide, there is also a battle to be expected from their respective ghoulish girls with the stringy black hair. And of course, chaos ensues.
While the film has a lot of effective “boo” moments, it never achieves the utter dread of the Ju-On films (I actually like the English-language The Grudge better). And I’ve never seen the original Ringu – but I do like Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. That film – in addition to some truly frightening images – also has the heart of a true mystery. Sadako vs. Kayako has none of that subtlety. It gives you just what you’d expect.
The film is definitely enjoyable, if a little flat. Just the fact that you’re waiting and waiting and waiting for what should be an epic showdown – gives the film some automatic anticipation and suspense. I’m not a die-hard fan of either of these franchises, so I think those with more invested will have a great time.
The effects are gnarly and creepy – everything you’d expect from both sides of this particular battle. Kayako is my personal favorite. Everything about her, including her tell-tale “clicking” sounds –absolutely gives me the heebie-jeebies. Samara (excuse me, Sadako) is frightening of course, but doesn’t get under my skin in the same way. The make-up and visual effects for both of them (and we can’t forget Kayako’s special little meowing-boy Toshio) are top-notch.
There is a big additional visual effect at the very end of the film (I won’t spoil), but I wasn’t totally impressed with its execution. The idea and the potential “what happens now?” was fun, but not the look of the effect itself.
Performances are all serviceable, but no one really stood out as making bold or interesting choices in their characters. It’s all par-for-the-course horror movie actions and reactions. If I had to give an edge to any one actor, it would be Aimi Satsukawa as Natsumi. While she annoyed me from the get-go, eventually, the terror and horrible anticipation of what was coming for her character – resulted in some genuine tears and emotion from the actor. Actually, I also dug the work of Masahiro Komoto as their professor. It may have been more about the way that character was written (Morishige is a shameless self-promoter with an unhealthy obsession over the legend of Sadako), but his performance is still fun. As for the rest of the cast, everyone else was, again — serviceable.
Now, what you’ll all be waiting for… the actual reason you’ll pick up this film at your local Redbox or grab it off of some “on-demand” channel – is because you’re expecting a battle unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Two brunette, stringy-haired ghouls – each with strong and beloved franchises to back them up – with nothing but violence, death and nastiness on their mind – well, they’re gonna throw-down, right? While there are several very fun scenes of these two first ladies of Asian horror going at it, the anticipation (even for a casual fan of the franchises like me) didn’t pay off. I wanted more of Kayako and Sadako tossing one another around and slamming through walls, etc. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but just not enough. When that’s what you go into the film looking and longing for, and it doesn’t deliver the very best, well… All I can say is “Darnit”.
Perhaps it’s a petty gripe, but I wish the filmmakers could have gotten access to the original Ju-On house. You’ll recall that it was re-used in the Sarah Michelle Gellar remake and it’s practically iconic by now (maybe not up to A Nightmare on Elm Street house standards, but it’s still relatively new – give it time). Kayako and her ghostly crew are in a house which is much different from the one we have come to know and love. I get it, things won’t always line up the way you want when producing films, but that doesn’t mean I have to like this noticeable change.
More of a love letter to really big fans of the original franchises, Sadako vs. Kayako is good, clean horror fun – with good effects, some laugh-at-yourself scares and a little bit of nostalgia to mix it all together. But it doesn’t have that ominous dread and the ability to make you look behind you; into the dark corners of your home – like the original films in their respective franchises did.
Sadako vs. Kayako has its VOD premiere on January 26th, 2017 – exclusively on Shudder.