Like every great horror franchise, fans start to want something a little more from their favourite villainous characters. With both the Ring and The Grudge series having 11 films each, including various spin-offs and their American remakes, it would seem only natural for these pale ghosts to finally face off. We’ve seen it before with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, but Japanese horror fans can finally watch their favourite cursed villains meet head to head, and it’s all thanks to the fantastic horror streaming service of Shudder Canada.
Sadako vs. Kayako starts with Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) in a class about urban legends. Both the haunted house (from The Grudge) and the cursed video (from Ring) show up in the lecture, with the professor showing a fondness for the cursed video and the legend of Sadako. While everybody believes them all to be myths, Yuri and Natsumi soon find out that Sadako is all too real. Natsumi wants Yuri to copy a VHS tape of her parents wedding to DVD, and when Yuri picks up an old VCR at a second hand store, the curse video is still inside. Natsumi watches it and finds herself to be the next victim of Sadako.
In another part of town, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) and her parents have just moved into a new home, right next to the haunted house that holds the spirit of Kayako. Suzuka feels as though she’s being called to the house, and when four boys go missing, she starts to wonder if there’s something to the rumours of the death house she keeps hearing about. Eventually she’s drawn inside, dooming herself with the curse of Kayako. When Yuri and Natsumi seek aid to rid themselves of Sadako, it appears that the only thing to do is head into the haunted house and get the demon from one curse to battle another, destroying them both and saving Yuri, Natsumi, and Suzuka.
Sadako vs. Kayako promises to bring the villains of Ring and The Grudge together, which it ultimately does, but the payoff lacks the power that is built up throughout the film. That’s not to say that the film isn’t successful, but the eventual confrontation is a bit of a letdown. In fact, most of the movie is dominated by the story of Sadako, which isn’t a problem for me personally, as I prefer the Ring series. Fans of The Grudge may not find as much to enjoy here, but Kayako does get some great moments.
Even keeping the focus more on one of the characters, things still feel rushed here. There’s just not enough time to properly devote to both villains and the characters who must face off against them. It feels a lot more like an American film than a typically creepier Japanese horror movie. The adults are pointless or non-existent, leaving most of the work to the teenagers, who don’t seem much better off in the intelligence department than what we normally find in a slasher movie. After 11 films in each respective series though, people aren’t really turning up to learn more about the victims.
Sadako vs. Kayako at least delivers some great moments featuring those two stars. Each character has a particular thing that makes them so damn creepy, and it works out very well in this film. There are a few more classic genre jumps than you may expect, and slow burning creeps are few and far between in this one. Sound design and odd movements still stand out with each villain, and it’s the one true reason to find fear in both of them.
Again, it all winds up with the showdown we’ve been waiting for, and while the final conclusion is more wild than you could imagine, the actual battle is short and limited. These are two characters who tend to creep around, so a fight isn’t exactly what you get. There’s more promise for what could come out of this than there actually is within Sadako vs. Kayako, so maybe horror fans will really get what they want if there is something more to come out of this series. For now, this film at least gives us another chance to get a few frights from our favourite Japanese horror characters. If you really needed a reason to join Shudder Canada, this is probably one of the better ones.