These days we’re used to big crossover movies: Batman v Superman, The Avengers, Freddy vs. Jason, the list goes on. In Japan, they recently released their own horror version. It’s called Sadako vs. Kayako, or in simpler terms, The Ring vs. The Grudge. On paper, that’s an incredibly cool concept. In execution, it’s a huge pile of crap.
If those names don’t sound familiar, Sadako is the sinister girl who appears after you watch a cursed videotape that will kill you in seven days. (As seen in Ringu, which was remade in the US as The Ring). Kayako is the double-jointed, pale-skinned, staccato screaming ghoul who holds a grudge against anyone who enters her former house. (As seen in Ju-On, which was remade in the US as The Grudge.)
At the start of this film, they’re both considered popular urban legends. Nothing more. That is, of course, until one girl asks her friend to dub a VHS tape to DVD. They go to a store to buy an old VCR, and I bet you can’t guess what’s inside of it. On the other side of town, a family has just moved across the country for the father’s job. Instantly, the high school age daughter notices the creepy old house next door with the sign “Keep Out” on it. I’ll let you guess whether or not she heeds those words.
It’s no coincidence that the film sets up the two villains in such cheesy ways. Director Koji Shiraishi is 100 percent on board with the fact this film is a little bit of a joke. There are laughs throughout and the performances are completely over the top on purpose. The problem with the movie isn’t the tone. It’s the pacing.
Sadako vs. Kayako takes about 20 or 30 minutes to set everything up. Pretty standard. The next 30 minutes feature the characters struggling with their decisions, with occasional appearances by the demons to keep you interested. Not exciting, but understandable. There has to be a story. It’s only then, a full hour into the movie, that the most deus ex machina character ever introduced appears. He’s a man who can somehow control magic and stuff and it’s his idea to get these two girls together so that their spirits can fight each other.
Great, right? However, it then takes another 30 minutes to even deliver on that. Sadako vs. Kayako is a 98-minute movie. If you’re doing the math, there is not a lot of time left. So, with about 10 minutes to go in the movie, the titular battle finally happens. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say it doesn’t live up to the expectations. After such a lengthy build-up, to end the battle so quickly is an atrocity. There are undoubtedly a few cool moments, but for the most part, they’re just annoying proof that the concept is being squandered. It then ends in a predictably annoying way before it cuts to credits.
“Frustrating” would be the nicest word to describe this movie. It’s a fun idea, handled with the perfect tone and really strong visuals. But wow, does the execution not reward an audience who came expecting a big-time horror showdown. Instead, it bores you into submission only to give a weak finish that feels okay simply by comparison.
Sadako vs. Kayako recently played Fantastic Fest 2016. It was picked up by Shudder for viewing in the United States later this year.