The vengeful spirits of the Sadaka (The Ring) and Kayako (The Grudge) face off as a cursed trio struggles to break Sadaka’s curse with Kayako’s curse.
Billy: Let’s start right at the beginning for Sadako vs. Kayako because those first shots start us off on what looks to be a pretty strong film. A young social worker entering a house, greeted with flickering lights and a static-filled television screen. It seamlessly blends the aesthetics and narratives of the two franchises in a way that impressed me. Right off the bat I understood the connection between these two worlds, and it worked as a natural-feeling collision. It eased me in while also putting my fears about these two franchises not mixing well at ease. You can do it. This can work. I believe they exist in the same universe now.
One of the things I love about Japanese horror movies is that they aren’t afraid to start slow, and the burning build of that first act was tremendous, even as the urban legend professor enters the film to give us some sort of direction. I’m not going to bash urban legend professors. I love Candyman, after all, and the urban legend angle of that is what makes it work. So when the cursed tape was put in that context, the set up to this movie was everything I wanted and more.
Amelia: First things first, I’m Team Kayako. I am Team Kayako for life! She is a ghost that’s perfect: she is spectral, spiritual perfection. Sadako is so full of gimmicks: prophetic dreams, hallucinations, being able to break the curse by passing it on? Breaking the curse! You can break her curse! Everything about Sadako is lame.
Ring fans can fight me, okay? Sadako sucks.
Kayako on the other hand? Just a straight up ghost you do not want to fuck with. She is the lord high bitch of her house, and is able to project whatever she wants for those that enter it. She’ll transport you back in time, or make the house appear to be lived in to lure more people in. Plus just everything about her physically is freaky. The way she moves, the sounds she makes, how she lives in an attic. You think a VHS tape is scarier than a scuttling, croaking ghost that lives in the attic? Nah. You are wrong.
Billy: The biggest issue this movie has as it goes on is that it doesn’t spend nearly as much time setting up the Ju-On half of the narrative as it does Ringu. I understood and knew everything I needed to know about the cursed tape and Sadako, but that house and the little blue meowing boy remained a mystery.
There was always going to be a voyeur quality to this movie where people were going to watch it without seeing any of the source material. Even as someone who has seen the original films I have by no means seen every installment of the franchise. I knew this, so I was okay with changes I saw as an understandable departure from the source materials. As long as the movie catches me up on those changes, I’m okay. I had absolutely no problem with the staircase looking different than the previous film. I took more issues with the way the ghosts killed that seemed to be inconsistent. Houses can change. Ghosts are creepy because they can’t. They’re more stuck in their ways than a horror fanboy.
Amelia: Now, as far as the two ghosts go in this movie… they suck. These are not the ghosts that you will recognize from movie one of their franchises. Sadako kills you after two days instead of seven and she makes you kill yourself instead of doing it herself. Kayako meanwhile is still prowling her house and killing those who enter, but holy shit is she doing it at an accelerated rate! You used to be able to live in her house for a while before succumbing. In the first movie, Rika carries on for like, a decade after entering Kayako’s house. Nowadays, you so much as enter that house for a second and that’s it, dead right away.
There is no atmospheric build-up the way these two are being handled in this movie, none of the slow dread of creeping ever closer to a ghost related demise because the demise either comes via suicide from Sadako or instantly from Kayako.
And it’s not just the change up in their “ghost rules” that drags down any creepy tension. This movie is a joke: a literal joke! It started as an April Fool’s gag that got made into an actual movie because of fan interest. Which could have been really great because listening to fans can help improve a product. But this wasn’t a product to begin with, like I said, this was a joke. And it was approached from all angles as a joke. Here’s a legitimate poster for the movie:
No one took this seriously as something that could be scary. They took it as a joke. To which I can only say a big fuck you. I don’t joke about Kayako, okay? Bitch means business and filmmakers should approach her character as such.
And none of that is even touching on the loathing I have that the iconic Ju-On stairs that Kayako drags herself down have changed. I don’t have enough patience to tell you about how fucking angry that makes me!
Billy: There’s a history to Freddy vs. Jason that informs Sadako vs. Kayako wherein the former was originally supposed to be Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, as in Ash Williams, as in the hero of Evil Dead. It’s interesting, because it would mean bringing in a tone that was completely at odds with the other two properties. I actually joked about this happening in Sadako vs. Kayako, especially when the exorcist says she called someone more skilled to take over. But then… it happens. As soon as that swaggering demonologist enters the film, it becomes completely different. It’s like a superhero from a manga comic entered the scene, and we suddenly have a snarky new lead with a blind child sidekick snapping his fingers and dealing with old problems in ways we’ve never seen before. Everything becomes bloated and exaggerated. I was shocked.
And I shouldn’t have been surprised. You don’t make a horror movie this way. This is the way you make a monster movie, and you had to end it with these ghosts becoming monsters on a grander scale. The fact that they do it by literally combining the two into one creature is… odd, but things were already out of the horror zone long before that. I don’t actually think this was a terrible film, or even a lesson for filmmakers, because on the terms it set itself out on, it succeeded. It’s more a lesson for me, as a viewer, to understand the necessity of genre and to pace my expectations accordingly. It’s tough to acknowledge that the fantastic, eerie atmospheric built up in the first half of this film had to give way to something more formulaic, but while it might remind me of its original Ringu and Ju-On franchises, it’s not the way a horror movie operates to smash its way together. It’s why sequels can be better in an action movie than a horror, and it’s why it’s actually WEIRD AS HELL that horror movies tend to go the endless sequel route more than most.
Amelia: What I did find interesting while it was on the screen for all of five minutes, were the legitimate looking Japanese exorcism rituals. Whereas Sadako has been approached in the past as a puzzle to solve, here she’s just a straight up spirit that is inside those that watch the video. And if she’s a possessing spirit, maybe a good old fashioned exorcism beat-down will get her out. The girl kneeling in front of a candle lit altar in a white kimono, splashed with water because Sadako is very water-based and you fight fire with fire and water with water in the ceremony that the Shinto priestess choose, it’s a well done scene.
I watch international horror because I want to see how different cultures approach spirits and the supernatural. I’m frankly sick of seeing the Christian exorcism process: the power of Christ compels you! Compels me to what? Nod off having to watch this yet again? I was happy to see something different and wanted more of that throughout the story. But, surprise surprise, I didn’t.
Billy: Four wells/Two stairs out of ten April Fool’s day gags that should have stayed a gag
I’ll say at least one thing for Sadako vs Kayako, and that’s that the Ringu half of the film was a hell of a lot stronger than Rings. You had a similar story of dissecting the “cursed tape” in an academic setting and bringing the VHS monster into the digital age, but where Rings falters in trying too many angles without sticking to any one approach, Sadako vs Kayako seems to do everything right by Ringu while completely ignoring what made Ju-On special. Blue kid kills a bunch of boys the instant they walk into the house? Where’s the dread? Gone. Replaced by superheroics.
Amelia: One well/Three stairs out of ten April Fool’s day gags that should have stayed a gag
I have too much love for Ju-On to see Sadako vs Kayako and not expect more than what I got. Ringu I can take or leave, but Ju-On is my favourite horror movie now and forever and I want the best for my scuttling attic bae Kayako. I think I could have enjoyed this more if the two “name brand” ghosts weren’t attached to it, but as it stands now, I just want to put on Ju-On and watch bae properly fuck up those that enter her cursed house.