Ghost vs. ghost: A review of “Sadako vs. Kayako”

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Entertainment

An onryō is a vengeful spirit from Japanese folklore. Onryō seek revenge against the ones who killed them, but they often continue killing long after they’ve achieved their vengeance. Both Sadako (the villain from the Japanese franchise “The Ring”) and Kayako (the villain in “The Grudge” franchise) are onryō. Sadako was pushed into a well by her father and died of starvation days later. She created a psychic virus in a single moment of hatred. Kayako was murdered by her husband after he found out about her obsession with one of her old classmates. The film Sadako vs. Kayako brings the two onryō together in a horror/comedy that’s reminiscent of films like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator.

While it’s not well known in the West, Sadako vs. Kayako launched a massive marketing campaign in Japan through social media. The marketing team created a twitter account for Sadako which was initially used for “Sadako 3D.” Additionally, the studios created an Instagram account for Kayako and Toshio, posting content as if she was a proud single mother. This provided a strange, but wholesome take on the characters. Universal Japan also had a poll to see which villain was the audience’s favourite. Sadako won.

Overall, the film starts like any standard horror film. The director builds up a good atmosphere through the use of darkness and low contrast, allowing the film to look professional without removing any of the horror. The film also does a good job of introducing both curses through a short exposition dump early into the film.

One of the promotional images from the Twitter account @kayakowithtoshio.

What I found most interesting about this film is that it’s a sub-par horror film up until the halfway point. At this point, Sadako kills somebody in a way that feels straight out of “Looney Tunes”. From here, the film takes a less serious approach to its storytelling.

Additionally, it doesn’t feel like a crossover film. Sadako vs. Kayako feels like a Ring film with Kayako added in to reach a broader audience. Kayako’s not a major presence throughout the film, only showing up a handful of times before the end. And, while the fight between Sadako and Kayako is satisfying for fans, it doesn’t feel earned.

The film also had trouble creating satisfying arcs for its main characters–I didn’t end up caring about any of the protagonists. I enjoyed Masanobu Andô’s performance as Kyozo, a priest that’s trying to exorcise Sadako. Andô took his role just seriously enough to keep me interested in watching.

In spite of my criticisms, I enjoyed my time watching this film and I am a fan of both franchises. If you can turn your brain off while watching it, Sadako vs. Kayako is a fun film. But if you’re looking for a quality horror experience, I’d point you to the older films.

You can stream Sadako vs. Kayako on Shudder or AMC+.

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