As a fan of both franchises and of J-Horror in general, I was very skeptical of the idea of this mashup of two of the most famous Japanese horror icons of the modern era. Boy was I wrong!!! Sadako vs. Kayako is the movie that gives fans all of the entertainment value and creepiness of the franchises where mashups like Freddy vs. Jason failed to deliver. Much to my surprise, each of the threads of The Ring and The Grudge seen onscreen could exist as a solid sequel in their respective franchises. However, when they combine, it is a real treat for horror fans. There is a lot of love for every sound, weird character contortion, and sense of dread that the movies are known for, all up on the screen for viewers to enjoy and be terrified by.
The film does an excellent job of not only combining the two franchises, but also updating them for the modern era in ways that seem neither heavy handed or nudge/wink at the audience. We simply live in a time where videotape has given way to discs and streaming and movie leads us through a very believable path to the modernization. In much the same way as the characters in Scream are aware of how horror movies work, the characters in Sadako vs. Kayako know how their urban legends work, even if they do not believe in them at first.
In that sense, Sadako vs. Kayako succeeds in giving us some interesting character to root for including the students that are affected by the Cursed Tape and Grudge House, a college professor who is obsessed with these urban legends, and some of the best exorcists outside of the Exorcist and Mr. Vampire series. Whereas most horror sequels introduce disposable characters early on so we can get to the monsters we know and love sooner, S vs. K gives itself a little time for the victims to settle into and react to the bizarre legends surrounding each of the franchise. The creepiness levels is kept high, complete with all the scares, sounds and monstrous gags fans know and love from The Ring and The Grudge. The buildup and payoff left me wanting more of a few characters and definitely more of this crazy film combo.
As a skeptic of this combined franchise, I was extremely happy to eat crow on this one. This type of film has been tried many times with the failures far outweighing the successes, and yet Sadako vs. Kayako works in ways I never expected. Often times throughout the movie I found myself marveling at how much I enjoyed it even over the first films in each series. The crowd in the midnight screening I was part of seemed to have the same reaction with lots of clapping, startled jumps and resounding whoops of pure fandom when things worked well together. If this gets a wide release, I advise seeing it with a high-end sound system, as the audio is a key factor in the creepiness and iconography of both franchises. Also, stay for the credits, it is worth the wait.
If you are a fan of J-Horror or if you are new to the series and just want some good scares (although I do recommend seeing at least the original first entries in each franchise if possible before viewing this one), you are in for a real treat. If the crowd leaving the theater with me is any indication, I don’t think I will be in the minority on this one. I hope it makes it the US in an easily accessible legitimate form (hopefully a theatrical release!) soon, so I can discuss it with my fellow horror fiends at length. I did not expect this film to unseat all the sequels to each franchise and become a contender for my all-time favorite Japanese horror film, but Sadako vs. Kayako is now way ahead of the pack for me.