Much like a certain hockey masked mama’s boy and the most famous resident of Elm Street, the former titans of J-horror have teamed up for a comeback with what can only be described as a ghostly grudge match (apologies for the pun). In case you don’t know these greasy haired spirits by name, Sadako is that VHS vengeance ghost from The Ring while Kayako is the crackly voiced crawler from The Grudge. Given that both Japanese horror franchises were initially rooted in quietly creepy atmospherics over bloody spectacle, it might seem odd to imagine the two icons fighting. Thankfully the folks who made Sadako Vs. Kayako are very much aware of the absurdity of the concept and have made a delightful romp pitched halfway between parody and homage, dripping with fan service.
The flick kicks off with two college students attending a lecture about urban legends where the geeky professor (Masahiro Komoto) gushes about how desperately he wants to get his hands on that Ringu VHS tape. Weird coincidence: one of those students (Aimi Satsukawa) needs to transfer her parents’ VHS tape to DVD and gets her friend (Mizuki Yamamoto) to help. They buy a dusty old VCR and wouldn’t ya know it? The deadly tape is inside, prompting an all new haunting from Sadako. Meanwhile there’s a high school girl (Tina Tamashiro) nearby who recently moved to a new house next to a creepy abandoned mansion. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to it and those pesky Grudge ghosts happen to be inside. The two parallel haunting tales come together when the college girls hire a wacky exorcist (Masanobu Ando) with a psychic blind kiddie sidekick (Maiko Kikuchi) and he decides that the only way to stop Sadako is to face her off against another cursed ghost with long stringy hair.
As you may have gathered, the whole thing is pretty damn ridiculous. While these franchises scared the pants off of international audiences in the early 2000s with their slow burn creep out atmospherics and delayed gratification scare tactics, the folks behind Sadako Vs. Kayako realize that the patience of contemporary audiences has changed. No one wants to wait around in a mashup horror franchise romp with ‘Vs’ in the title. So director Koji Shiraishi (who made the genuinely terrifying Noroi many moons ago) wastes no time getting down to ghostly business and does it all with his tongue pressed firmly into his cheek. This is more of a haunted house entertainment factory than anything that could produce nightmares.
Shiraishi is so determined to entertain that he even shifts Sadako’s death deadline forward so that anyone who views the tape actually dies in two days rather than seven. Rarely a few minutes pass between hauntings from one of the beloved spectres. All the classic scare tactics from The Ring and The Grudge franchises make an appearance. Jump scares and body counts pile up quickly and Shiraishi is certainly talented enough to prod viewers in all the ways they’ll crave when showing up to the theater. Some of the hauntings and deaths are a bit more graphic than the subtle series are known for, but always in playfully cartoonish ways. The movie is designed for maximum entertainment value, not shock value.
The most pleasant surprise in Sadako Vs. Kayako is the sense of humor. Shiraishi has a great deal of fun poking at the holes in each movie’s silliest extremes, horror fandom, and genre clichés in general. Yet the humor never gets so slapsticky or self-conscious as to undermine the scares. It’s all in the name of making this movie a relentless entertainment factory. In particular, Masanobu Ando’s eccentric exorcist and his psychic blind kiddie sidekick Maiko Kikuchi are such an amusing pair that they could well end up chasing other popular Japanese horror franchise staples in further sequels and spin offs. It’s not impossible, after all who would have ever guess this movie would get made?
Admittedly, some might find the titular battle a bit of a let down as it’s hardly the epic n’ endless fight of Freddy Vs. Jason. The movie is more The Ring + The Grudge With A Little Fight, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. This isn’t going to provoke sleepless nights like the original movies did years ago nor is it likely going to revive either series. It’s a product made purely for fans and one executed with such craft, care, talent, and humor by folks who clearly love these movies that it should please the target audience. If the title intrigues you, give it a go. It’s not like anyone inclined to watch the ghost from The Ring fight the ghosts from The Grudge will be expecting a masterpiece. This is all about giddy ghostly entertainment and on a purely crowd-pleasing level, it delivers the goods.
To catch up on all of our TIFF 2016 coverage thus far click here, or peruse our list of reviews below:
- American Pastoral
- The Bad Batch
- The Birth of a Nation
- Blair Witch
- The Bleeder
- Free Fire
- The Limehouse Golem
- The Magnificent Seven
- A Monster Calls
- Nocturnal Animals
- The Promise
- Trespass Against Us
- A United Kingdom
- Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey