Sadako vs Kayako
By: Josh Pearlman
This isn’t the first time a horror movie’s title has lied to its intended audience (Jason Takes Manhattan, for example, could more accurately have been titled Jason Takes A Cruise and Then Eventually, Briefly, Winds Up in Manhattan). However, this is the first time that I’m aware of in which the showdown implied by the title (spoilers, maybe?) comes across as more of an afterthought than an actual plot development.
The title refers to Sadako, the antagonist of The Ring (Ringu) franchise, bent on avenging her death and also finding a decent bottle of Pantene. In this incarnation, Sadako is facing off against Kayako, the creeping ghost lady at the center of The Grudge (Ju-On) franchise. Kayako is seeking revenge and probably a litterbox for her meowing ghost-boy minion to call home. The movie, itself, seems to choose sides by being much more of a Ring movie than a Grudge movie (shades of Freddy vs Jason residing much more comfortably on Elm Street than in Camp Crystal Lake). In the end; however, it doesn’t manage to satisfy fans of either franchise.
For starters, the structure is very fragmented, basically telling parallel stories of Sadako’s curse tormenting a pair of frightened young girls and Kayako’s curse tormenting a different pair of scared kids. Eventually, (about eighty or so minutes into the ninety-eight minute movie) the stories manage to come together, but certainly not in the way the title suggests. Also, the tone is borderline parodic throughout which doesn’t help it work as a horror movie. While it never shifts into full parody, it still never manages to be truly frightening either (a shame, especially considering the original two Ringu movies are amongst the scariest ever to come out of the J-horror boom).
The biggest issue is that the film never manages to transcend feeling like two disparate movies stapled together in order to sell a smackdown between the titular stringy-haired ghost-monsters. While there are a couple of decent jolts along the way, (particularly a sudden neck-break that stands out) there’s really nothing that would make this a worthwhile entry in either franchise.
We’re going to head into mild-spoiler territory here, but there’s really no way to talk about this movie without addressing the showdown implied by the title. It takes up maybe the last five minutes of the movie and is so poorly conceived and staged (with an added touch of CGI nonsense that’s particularly laughable) that it pretty much derails the movie that was designed solely to showcase it. While some of the rest of the movie works, it all feels like things we’ve seen before (mostly because it’s composed entirely of things we’ve seen before in the earlier, stronger entries in each respective franchise). Additionally, the final moment of the movie is so dopey that I let out an audible “oh, please” as the credits rolled. If a showdown is what you crave, go for one of the classics: Frankenstein vs the Wolf Man, King Kong vs Godzilla, Freddy vs Jason, Kramer vs Kramer…any of those will leave you more satisfied than Sadako vs Kayako. That being said, I’d still watch the heck out of Sadako vs Kramer.
Despite the disappointment of the movie, I’d still like to express my gratitude toward the good people at Shudder for making it available in the states. I’ve been a Shudder subscriber since it was in beta and I can’t say enough good things about them. A lot of people refer to them as “the Netflix of horror,” but I honestly believe that does them a disservice as their content is much more lovingly curated that what you’ll find on Netflix. Sam Zimmerman (formerly Managing Editor of Fangoria) has assembled a fantastic team of people who live and breathe horror movies and put tremendous care into what’s available on Shudder (and how it’s presented). They’ve only recently forayed into exclusive content and is an example of that. I may not have liked the movie (it is not a good movie), but I’m glad that a service like Shudder exists to present it (especially at only $5 a month).