Sadako vs. Kayako Movie Review
Written by Shane Douglas Keene
Released by Shudder
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Written by Takashi Shimizu and Kôji Suzuki
2016, XX minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder US | UK | Canada on January 26th, 2017
Mizuki Yamamoto as Yuri
Tina Tamashiro as Suzuka
Masanobu Ando as Keizo
Mai Kikuchi as Tamao
As die-hard horror fans, most of us are familiar with the movies The Ring and The Grudge, and a lot of us are fans of the Japanese movies they were born of, Ringu and Ju-on. And as with most foreign born movies, there are a number of us, myself included, who are bigger proponents of the original versions than we are of their American counterparts. So I was colored a neon bright shade of tickled pink when I was presented with the opportunity to watch and review one of the most recent films based on the two series, and I went into it with super high hopes and an open mind, anticipating that it would be one of two things: an absolutely mind blowing stunner or a flat-out failure. But, as is often the case, I was wrong, because it was neither of those things.
First up, let me tell you what I like about this film. Originally teased as an April Fool's joke back in 2015 and then released as a full-length feature in 2016, Sadako vs. Kayako is a visually pleasing spectacle that manages to establish imagery and mood that are perfectly well suited to the movies it strives to crossover, looking and feeling quite similar to both while still to some degree being its own thing. It does a good job of setting up a suspenseful and foreboding backdrop in which to place its characters and it is a largely fun experience that does extreme justice in its portrayal of the ghosts from the former works. The two final girls, played by Mizuki Yamamoto and Tina Tamashiro, put in good to sometimes borderline great performances that kept me following the story and invested enough to care about what happened to them as they struggled to overcome their individual curses and somehow survive the seemingly unsurvivable. Because of them, I was involved enough to follow the thing through to its finish, in spite of some of its greater flaws.
Which, of course, leads me to what I really don't care for about the film. For starters, writer/director K?ji Shiraishi spends the first half rehashing in overt detail the stories behind the two curses, at least as far as their technical applications go, coupled with another large portion of the same time period being devoted to killing people without any real purpose beyond demonstrating to his characters and, by extension, viewers that the curses are deadly and folks are going to get dead. Gratuitous violence does to some extent serve a purpose in films this type, adding to the overall tension and fear factor, but it doesn't even do that in this case, as we learn of the deaths after the fact more often than not and don't get the shock of bearing witness. In addition, Shiraishi tried to do way too much in the time frame he had and the piece ends up feeling like the visual equivalent of an overstuffed suitcase, and it gets more and more rushed as the story progresses until the characters are jumping to conclusions at random without any reason for doing so other than to just get to the end of the thing. And then there's that little issue with the acting. Aside from the two final girls I mentioned earlier, the performances of the other actors ranged from unremarkable to, in the case of Masanobu Ando, some of the most over-the-top overacting I've ever witnessed.
All that said, it might surprise you to learn that if you asked me if I would recommend it, I would probably say yes. In spite of the overabundance of flaws, it is a fun watch that wasn't a complete waste of an hour and a half, and the story, seemingly in spite of itself, is entertaining enough to hold my attention until the end. I wouldn't suggest that you pass up a steak dinner or a chance to get laid in favor of this film, but if you're a fan of the original franchises I think you'll find it at least worth the price of your Netflix account when the movie gets there. Overall, it lacks the scares and the sense of dread that the others brought to the table but, if nothing else, it's a strong demonstration of Koji Shiraishi's devotion to and knowledge of the genre, even giving a small nod to Lovecraft's mythos towards the very end.