I know it’s not awards season just yet, but this one cannot wait. The award for the most preposterous, yet incredibly entertaining film of the year goes to Sadako vs. Kayako. It’s essentially Freddy vs. Jason for the Ju-on (aka The Grudge) and Ring franchises, with the vengeful spirits from each battling one another, but underneath the supernatural mayhem there is a far more human element that makes the flick something more than your average genre fare.
Directed by Kōji Shiraishi and written by the two men responsible for each of the titular villains, Sadako vs. Kayako serves as the twelfth film in both the Ring and Ju-on franchises. The film begins with a death scene that pulls together the legendary spirits before separating them in an effort to create two parallel tales of terror that eventually cross paths. On the one side there are two students, Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa), looking to digitize an old VHS tape. They find a VCR in a used electronics store and bring it home only to discover the infamous cursed videotape of the Ring films still inside. Yuri plays the footage against Natsumi’s will, but she misses the video due to a phone call. Natsumi, on the other hand, sees what no one is supposed to see and soon receives a call informing her that she will die in two days.
In a panic, Yuri and Natsumi seek the help of their college professor, named Morishige (Masahiro Komoto). An authority of urban legends, Morishige verifies the existence of the tape and in doing so curses himself to die. The trio seeks help from a local exorcist who believes she can rid the companions of Sadako’s curse, but that belief is false, and soon her attempts to save Natsumi and Morishige leads to more death. This is when we meet Keizo (Masanobu Ando), a man with psychic powers and a pint-sized, blind, psychic sidekick, who claims he can end Sadako’s reign of terror if only they can convince the spirit to battle an equally evil presence.
The second spirit Keizo seeks is Kayako who is already busy preying on another school girl, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), who recently moved into the neighborhood where the notorious haunted house resides. Together with his sidekick Tamao (Mai Kikuchi), Keizo warns Suzuka to stay away from the home, but a series of strange events involving several missing children from the area draws her back to the home. The childlike spirit known as Toshio that accompanies Kayako scares her off at first, but it’s not enough to keep her away for good, and soon Suzuka realizes she too is marked for death.
Both narratives in Sadako vs. Kayako work extremely well on their own. There is tension and scares aplenty for fans of both spirits, but the real draw of a movie like this requires supporters from both sides to make a pretty big leap of faith in order to appreciate what Shiraishi has created. Keizo eventually realizes that the only chance he has to save anyone is to force them to watch the video and enter the haunted house, which in turn leaves everyone double cursed. Both Kayako and Sadako believe they have a right to kill, but only one can claim the bodies. So, of course, they fight.
People don’t watch movies like Sadako vs. Kayako expecting high quality entertainment beyond death and jump scares, but this film rises above what is expected for most horror films. Maybe this is because it is a product of the people who have spent nearly two decades building the franchises that birthed the titular characters. This is not someone playing in other people’s sandboxes, but two masters of horror uniting their fictional universes in an effort to up the scare factor for everyone. It’s a risky endeavor that could have very easily gone awry, but somehow it works like gangbusters.
Sadako vs. Kayako is a grim fever dream of horror fantasies come to life. Movies like this aren’t supposed to get made—or at least not made as well as this film is, because many investors seem to believe there is no audience for monster movie crossovers. Like Freddy vs. Jason before it, Sadako vs. Kayako proves that notion is false. Horror fans have spent decades debating the hierarchy of things that keep us up at night, but it’s incredibly rare that we get to see those things fight one another in a winner-takes-all battle that doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous on screen. This movie is absurd in the best possible ways, and for certain horror hounds it will likely become something they watch regularly with friends who claim to have seen it all. I doubt we will see more movies like this, but I certainly hope that is not the case.