Move over “Batman vs. Superman”, here’s the “versus” movie we were all actually fantasizing about, the one pitting The Ring’s central character, Sadako, against The Grudge’s vengeful Kayako. Japanese horror’s favourite ghoulish ladies are being brought back to the screen by J-horror master, Kōji Shiraishi, in what proved to be the ultimate ghostly face-off.
Sadako vs. Kayako was first teased at first as an April fool’s joke in 2015, but going with the idea “it’s funny because it’s true”, it was later confirmed, in December of the same year. Die-hard fans were thrilled. Died-out fans (those who grew sceptical of the original franchises in time) were doubtful but curious. After all, the two franchises managed to single-handedly make Japanese horror cinema break out of its niche status and reach box-office and critical appeal in the late 90’s, early 00’s. By that point the allure of gratuitous gore had started to waver, triggering a shift in focus from graphic horror to a more subtly paced eerie atmosphere. It was then that Hideo Nakata’s The Ring took 1998 audiences by storm and paved the way for many exemplary horrors to come (Dark Water and One Missed Call never fail to raise Goosebumps at the mere thought of them). It also paved to way for many remakes to come, Japan becoming Hollywood’s go-to place for ideas and inspiration.
At first, Sadako vs. Kayako itself might seem like Hollywood’s brainchild to milk it for all it’s worth, what with all the Hello Kitty collaboration, the main characters throwing the opening pitch at a baseball game or making an Instagram account for Kayako and Toshio. However, do not let yourselves be dissuaded by the idea that mergers care less about the film and more about the merger. All the memorable elements of your favourite instalments are still there.
The plot is quite straight-forward: “after viewing a legendary cursed videotape, Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) discovers she has only two days before she will be killed by the demonic entity known as Sadako. The only way to break the curse: pitting the demon Sadako against Kayako, an accursed spirit possessing a haunted house where everyone who enters disappears.” (official synopsis)
But as you can imagine, the story is more the set-up for a film crafted for the fans’ pure enjoyment, delivering exactly what it promises: a gruesome Battle Royale of the Undying. Shiraishi Koji balances horror with dry humour while masterfully building anticipation. Many of the film’s moments hold a full flavoured sense of chilling eeriness built through clever use of sound effects, camerawork and quite a few jump scares. Much like how urban legends shift and change, the “rules” of previous films are bended (for instance, Sadako no longer appears after 7 days, but 2), acting as the base ingredient for a whole new dish. While this time there is not much back-story for either the ghouls or girls, the haunted house and demon technology tropes are reiterated, only now you find that deep-down you are rooting for the spectres, wanting and waiting for them to emerge out of their hellish lairs and attack the wailing protagonists, fighting it out as you shudder with boyish enthusiasm. And shudder you will!