'Sadako Vs Kayako' Pits 'The Ring' And 'The Grudge' Against Each Other In A Silly Battle Royale [Fantastic Fest Review]

"Who would win in a fight?" is the great conversation starter. You yell about it on the playground. You debate the finer points in the bar. Who you back in a match-up between two fictional characters can sometimes say a lot about you and your tastes. Batman or Superman? Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees? Alien or predator?

And now we've reached peak versus with the arrival of Sadako vs Kayako, which pits the evil spirits from The Ring and The Grudge against each other in an absurd supernatural throwdown. In one corner, you have a longhaired young woman with a penchant for possessing outdated physical media. In the other, you have a broken-bodied, frog-throated demoness who really doesn't like visitors. And when they do fight, will anyone care?

The short answer: sure! Kind of. Mostly.

Much like how Freddy vs Jason was a Nightmare on Elm Street movie guest starring Friday the 13th's undead redneck serial killer and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a Batman movie that occasionally gave Superman something to do, Sadako vs Kayako is very much a new The Ring movie featuring a key role for characters from The Grudge. More specifically, it's a Ringu movie featuring Ju-On characters, blending the often baffling mythologies of both Japanese film series into a surprisingly easy-to-digest package. Those who have only seen the American remakes should be able to leap into the proceedings just fine.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with these characters knows the drill. First, we meet two girls who stumble across a cursed videotape that curses the viewer, summing the evil Sadako to kill them within two days. They watch it, of course. Then we meet a young girl whose family moves next door to a haunted house that is home to the vengeful ghost Kayako (and her son, Toshio), who kills anyone who dares enter her home. She goes in, of course. Faced with similar predicaments, both sides eventually unite with a crazy plan: pit both spirits against one another! Problem solved. Nothing can go wrong with that plan, right?

The best thing Sadako vs Kayako has going for it is that it knows exactly what it is and has its fair share of goofy fun at the expense of its own premise. With the arrival of a brusque exorcist-for-hire (Masanobu Ando) and his equally curt blind child sidekick (Mai Kikuchi), the film places its tongue firmly in cheek and keeps it there for the rest of the running time. While everyone else runs and screams and cowers, these two wryly comment on the proceedings and deliver all kinds of bad news and dark omens with hilarious deadpan. It is this duo who comes up with the plan to force these two ghosts to fight and both of them are well aware of the fact that their plan is nothing short of insane.

The humor is actually the most successful aspect of Sadako vs Kayako, which has too much on its plate to capture the slow, creeping dread that defines the best entires of these characters' solo outings. There are plenty of jump scares and few genuinely creepy moments (both Sadako and Kayako are allowed to rack up an impressive body count), but director Kôji Shiraishi keeps things moving at a brisk pace. After all, he has to service two storylines and only has 98 minutes to do so. The goofy, self-aware comedy works well at a sprint as the horror suffers. 

And for a long time, the film works. It's schlock, but it's fun schlock, a great, big pile of gas station junk food. You may turn your nose up at it, but sometimes this is exactly what you want at 2:00 A.M. when no one is looking at you. Unfortunately, the film really stumbles in the home stretch when the two ghosts actually get down the fighting. You thought the showdown between Batman and Superman earlier this year was slow-paced and lame and anticlimactic? Meet the showdown between Sadako and Kayako, which lasts for only a few minutes before concluding in a swirling mass of lousy CGI. The final moments are almost admirable in the brazen WTF-ery and the abrupt non-ending almost hilarious in how much of a middle finger it is to the audience, but it's still a deeply unsatisfying conclusion to a film whose title promises something with more energy and scope.

The ending stinks and it's not especially frightening, but Sadako vs Kayako is oddly endearing and often funny. If you recognized the character names from the title without having to Google them, you will find something to enjoy here. If that title tickles your fancy, know that there are worse things to watch while drunk after midnight. At the very least, you have to know the answer to that immortal question: "Who would win a fight?"

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10