It was inevitable really. With their own franchises bled dry of anything still resembling interest, let alone originality, a mash up between two of modern horrors’ most iconic characters was always going to happen. And audiences do love to see franchises match up, whether it’s Freddy vs. Jason, Batman vs. Superman or Alien vs. Predator. As is so often the case, however, what starts out as an interesting idea invariably descends into a convoluted, contrived, overly-complicated mess – we’re looking at you Zack Snyder.
The thing is, with Sadako vs. Kayako director Kōji Shiraishi understands that this is a preposterous idea and works hard to instil some fun into proceedings. As well as the obvious victims of the urban curses, there is a mad professor who is so desperate to meet the malevolent Sadako that he will risk his own life for the “honour”. We have a team of exorcists who, through some fancy hand waving and random leaps in knowledge, conspire to pit the two spirits against each other, as clearly that is the only way to save everyone. There is even an opening act that pokes fun at the idea of a cursed VHS tape as no-one has video recorders anymore so how could the curse still exist?
If there is a central problem with the film, it is that Kayako is given far too little screen time. Until the eccentric exorcists turn up, Shiraishi’s film is firmly split into two narratives. The Sadako story is more prominent, as the students who stumble upon the tape desperately seek a “cure” for their curse, and while well-made, it is narratively routine for anyone who has seen even one of the Ringu films. The Kayako plotline is more interesting, but she is held back until the end, with most of the creepy heavy lifting being left to the young Toshio, who feline-like stalks his unwary victims. In fairness, many of the scares come from Toshio’s appearances, and it is a likely indictment of the cultural impact of the two main characters that we have become somewhat immune to their presence.
While seeming to damn it with faint praise, it’s difficult to imagine how Sadako vs. Kayako could have turned out any better. Shiraishi has ticked all the necessary boxes and made a valiant attempt at providing passable justification as to why these two characters should meet up in the first place. There are some good scares, and the direction and performances are all fine, but the film never rises above the average. And the finale is just a spooky step too far.
SADAKO V KAYAKO / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KŌJI SHIRAISHI / STARRING: MIZUKI YAMAMOTO, TINA TAMASHIRO, AIMI SATSUKAWA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (JAPAN); UK RELEASE DATE TBA