Twenty years ago, America’s obsession with J-Horror began with a little movie called Ringu. The story of a cursed videotape that kills any viewer within seven days became a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and the dark-haired ghost girl at its center became a pop culture and horror icon. Two decades after he changed horror forever, the original director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata, is back with a new take on the spooky spirit who started it all. Even more exciting is that the film opened North America’s biggest genre festival, Fantasia Fest on Thursday night.
As the eighth movie in the sprawling spooky franchise, Sadako is presented as a sort of reboot/reintroduction to the Ring franchise; it begins with a young girl who is apparently possessed by the spirit of the ghost from the VHS tape known as “Sadako.” To rid herself and the world of the evil decides, the little girl’s mother decides that she’s going to kill her daughter. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go very well, and soon the new Sadako is on the loose.
Despite an ambitious concept that leans into the returning trend of female-led action/horror franchises, Sadako sags. It’s a slow-burn flick to the point of dragging and the central mystery often struggles to ignite enough intrigue for you to truly want to solve it.
While the main story follows a young nurse who finds a connection with Sadako, there’s a more interesting subplot that follows her brother Kazuma. The latter is a YouTuber who, in a quest to go viral, becomes obsessed with a strange apartment fire that is connected to the young girl from the tape. The direction and use of YouTube videos are some of the smartest (if slightly unoriginal) stuff in Sadako. In a different movie, they could have been utilized to frame the film in a far more interesting way.
Sadako presents some of its strongest moments as it pursues the mystery of Kazuma and the possibilities of the reach and horror of the Ring video making its way to YouTube. The new version of the infamous video is sadly far less effective than the original and strange, jarring movements of Sadako don’t achieve the same creepiness that they did in the original two films.
One of the biggest mistakes here is the rehashing of the Sadako legend that we’ve actually seen and heard multiple times. It feels superfluous to once again hear the story of the young girl who was thrown in the well and who cursed everyone because of it. Interestingly enough, when Sadako introduces new lore, it feels as if it’s building it up to Sadako as some kind of legendary Godzilla-esque cultural and supernatural force. Alas, the film never truly delivers on that aspect, instead leaning into the more pedestrian mystery that often fractures any of the rare tension that Sadako builds.
Like most late-stage sequels, Sadako lacks the searing horror of the original film that spawned it. Though it falls into the curse of rehashing the stories that came before, it does offer up a couple of good scares during its 99-minute runtime. Unfortunately, due to the overall flat tone, lack of atmosphere, and bafflingly bad third, act Sadako is far from the reinvigoration that fans of the franchise were hoping for.
Images: Kadokawa International Sales