TIFF Journal: ‘Sadako vs. Kayako’ (‘The Ring vs. The Grudge’)

'Sadako vs. Kayako'

Movie Rating:

3

Here’s something that no one saw coming: a crossover battle royale between two of the stringy-haired stars of the J-horror movement. That’s right, the millennial trend of slow-burn Japanese horror is on its last legs and producers have pulled a ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ on us in an attempt to jumpstart a little final interest in a few icons of the genre before they disappear into memory.

This is a strange development. The original movies were deathly serious and rooted in delayed gratification in ways that don’t quite line up with a campy monster movie mashup, yet ‘Sadako vs. Kayako’ somehow happened. Here’s the thing… it’s actually quite a bit of fun.

The movie kicks off with a pair of university students attending a lecture about folklore from a professor who is geekily obsessed with that haunted VHS tape from ‘The Ring’. Weird coincidence, the girls need to transfer an old wedding video to DVD that night and accidentally buy a VCR with the haunted cassette inside. Uh oh! Meanwhile across town, a young teen girl moves next door to a creepy old house haunted by those ‘Grudge’ ghosts that you remember so fondly. For a while, the two plots unfold in parallel as a 2-4-1 deal on J-horror sequels. Then the gals haunted by the ‘Ring’ ghost hire an eccentric exorcist who decides that the only way to avoid the death-by-VHS-curse is to get a conflicting curse that’ll kill it like two cancers eating each other. Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, no. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense at all. That’s not particularly important with this sort of thing, though. The key quality is “fun factor,” and this flick has that in spades. Director Koji Shiraishi (who made the genially horrifying ‘Noroi’ a decade ago) is completely aware of how ridiculous this concept is, so he embraces that and pokes fun at the absurdity of it. The movie is surprisingly and consistently funny, winking at viewers while still piling on the scares. Shiraishi doesn’t bother with any of the slow setup and atmospherics that typically define these sorts of movies. (He even speeds up the ‘Ringu’ ghost’s death deadline from seven days to two.) Instead, his focus is delivering maximum entertainment value.

All the typical tics and tricks from both franchises appear often. The movie is dripping with fan service and just enough parody without being too silly. The comic relief exorcist and his blind sidekick are strong enough that they could very well end up hunting other Japanese monsters in the future.

The big battle promised in the title is a bit brief after all the hype, which might disappoint some viewers. Likewise, the whole thing is a little stupid and superfluous. However, a movie called ‘The Ring vs. The Grudge’ isn’t exactly setting out to be art. It’s a silly romp made by fans and for fans, executed with just enough talent, humor, craft and skill to deliver the goods. If the concept sounds appealing, it’s hard to imagine you won’t enjoy yourself. If not, chances are you probably won’t even hear about this movie in the first place. It’s not exactly for outsiders.

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