“Versus” films were kind of a trend in 2016. You had Batman v Superman which sucked, Captain America: Civil War which rocked, and Sadako vs. Kayako, a dream come true for Japanese horror fans like me. A clash of the titans between the two most iconic characters of Asian horror sounds like a great idea, but while the film was fun, perhaps my expectations were a little too high. Both Ring and Ju-On have relied on a creepy atmosphere than say the more bloodier slasher genre, and seeing Sadako Yamamura and Kayako Saeko beat the crap out of each other would have been a little bit strange. Both are are ghosts with their own set of unusual powers, which leads to a more supernatural confrontation.
A little bit about Ju-On first, also known as The Grudge. It is a horror series created by Takashi Shimizu, based around a haunted suburban house in Tokyo. Whoever is daft enough to go into the house will sooner or later be tormented and killed by the ghostly residents, who were murdered in cold blood. The ghosts include housewife Kayako, who has one chilling death rattle and often attacks by crawling down a staircase, and her creepy son Toshio who makes cat noises. Each film basically told the same story, though a couple tried doing something new. There were even a couple of spin-offs telling new stories. A trio of American films were made, which also tried going down their own path. What I like about the Ju-On franchise is that it is one of the few horror franchises that makes me feel uncomfortable, and the first time I watched The Grudge, I had nightmares.
Anyway, Sadako vs. Kayako is an average film at best. For most of the story, we only focus on Sadako, and it isn’t until the end of the film that the characters from Ju-On become relevant apart from a meandering subplot. Two college students Yuri and Natsumi (Mizuki Yamamoto and Aimi Satsukawa) come across the cursed videotape, but only Natsumi watches it because Yuri is distracted by her phone. Sadako starts stalking them, but instead seven days, Natsumi will die in two. I guess they needed to spead the plot along.
The girls go to their fanatical teacher for help, who watches the tape, and then takes them to an exorcist. The attempt to destroy Sadako back fires and she kills everyone, but a talented spiritualist named Shinichi Morishige (Masahiro Komoto) rescues them, suggesting they pit Sadako against another ghost. He is also aided by a blind psychic girl named Tamao (Mai Kikuchi).
Elsewhere, teenager Suzuka Takagi (Tina Tamashiro) moves in across the road from the old Saeko place, learning of its reputation. When four boys disappear into the house, Suzuka is eventually drawn in to find them but is soon targeted by Kayako. Her parents go in to rescue her, but are brutally killed by the ghosts. Sadako was always more about using psychological dread to scare her victims, but Kayako is just out to get them and rip them limb-from-limb. Mental horror versus physical horror. Natsumi attempts suicide but Sadako doesn’t take too kindly to being cheated and kills her early. Yuri and Suzuka curse each other by watching the tape in Kayako’s house, and then we finally get to the big event...with only twelve minutes to go.
But, man, those brief minutes of fighting are worth it. Sadako drags Toshio into the TV, Kayako rugby tackles Sadako across the room and beats her up, and then Sadako shows the true strength of her power by making Kayako’s head explode. Shinichi joins the brawl by throwing Shinto charms at the ghosts. But we aren’t here to see him fight. The girls flee the house to a conveniently placed well behind the house, where Yuri plans to sacrifice herself so the ghosts destroy each other. That doesn’t go so well. I won’t give away what happens, but it does bring in to question what will become of both franchises from now on.
A lot of the film is mostly filler, but it does feel like a love letter to both franchises. Both sides of the film honour the thrills and chills of Ring and Ju-On, and the actors playing the ghosts nail the characters. It’s no Freddy vs. Jason, but it still brings a lot of fun, though I would’ve preferred it if Sadako and Kayako actually met up a little bit earlier in the film.