Writer: Kôji Suzuki, Takashi Shimizu (characters only)
Cast: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Masahrio Kômoto, Masanobu Andô, Rina Endo, Elly Nanami
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 98mins
What’s the story: Two college girls unleash the dormant spirit of Ring’s Sadako when they discover the cursed video tape. In another part of Tokyo, a high school student dooms herself when entering the house haunted by The Grudge’s Kayako. Is pitching the two legendary evil spirits against each other the only way to survive?
What’s the verdict: (Franchise) vs (Franchise) movies are typically a case of “nice idea, shame about the execution.” Alien vs Predator, Freddy vs Jason, Batman v Superman… underachievers all.
That Sadako vs Kayako began life as an April Fool’s prank video on the Ju-on: The Final Curse website also bodes ill.
And recent instalments of the Sadako-starring Ring and the Kayako-headlining Ju-on (The Grudge) series have lurked at the lower end of diminishing returns. Only a Japanese baseball match to promote this film, featuring both Sadako and Kayako, displayed any wit…
And wasn’t 1999’s Ringu an antidote to the-then wave of postmodern horror that rose in the wake of Scream? So going all meta is recipe for disappointment, no?
Happily, no. A reminder of how radical J-Horror was when it first arrived, Sadako vs Kayako may be the surprise chiller of the year. Deftly juggling two plotlines, it’s intelligent, funny and crucially injects frightfulness into the two wan, waist-length haired ladies of terror.
College girls Yuri and Natsumi (Yamamoto and Satsukawa) happen across Ring’s cursed video still in a VCR in a second-hand store. When Natsumi watches the video and discovers she has two days to live, the girls turn to eccentric college professor Morishige (Kômoto), an urban legend and Sadako obsessive, for help.
Parallel to this, high-schooler Suzuka (Tamashiro) has recently relocated with her family to the house next door to the Ju-on House of Death. When she is lured into the damned domicile and effectively doomed to perish, the plots converge for a spectral smackdown.
Director Shiraishi is notorious for helming 2009’s Grotesque, a torture-porn grueller banned by the BBFC. Here he’s in less nihilistic mood, directing with ghost-train flair and a swift pace, neatly outlining back stories for those not read-up on their Japanese banshee cinema.
References to the Ring curse lying fallow because no-one has VCRs anymore raise laughs, but genuinely unnerving is the fact modern J-Horror is rapidly approaching its 20th anniversary.
Gliding Sadako is given more screen time than crawling Kayako, presumably because most audiences are more familiar with Ring than Ju-on, but both raise shivers at the right moments. Special mention to dancer Rina Endo as Kayako, contorting her body literally into a crawling nightmare.
The film plays loose with Ring mythology (the video is different to that in the initial Ring movies, death here is via assisted suicide), and Kayako’s little blue lad Toshio may have more screen time than his mum and honorary aunt combined.
But, Professor Morishige’s pseudo-scientific suppositions about the curses are more fun than the dull scientific angle the original Ring 2 explored, and outrageous body-twisting trauma inflicted on victims recalls the melted-reality imaginings of horror manga God Junji Ito.
Throw in genuinely disquieting moments when the young characters contemplate their imminent demise, a rock n’ roll exorcist (Battle Royale baddy Andô) and his Don’t Look Now red coat attired pre-teen associate and you have a frightfully flavourful chiller that runs ringus around the competition.
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