Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sadako vs. Kayako (2016)

Original title: 貞子 vs. 伽椰子

College students Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) stumble upon one of those good old cursed video tapes containing the curse of Sadako of Ringu fame. Obviously, things do not develop into a pleasant direction for them from there, and soon they have to seek help from their urban myths teacher (Masahiro Komoto), who, it turns out, is totally okay with dying if it proves his favourite urban legend actually exists. At least he knows an exorcist.

While the girls have a bad time of it, the film from time to time pops in with high schooler Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), whose family has just moved in next to the Ju-On ghost house. Obviously, the girl gets in trouble with the ghost population there.

Fortunately, rogue exorcist Keizo (Masanobu Ando) gets on the case – for a lot of money – bringing with him a bad attitude, a blind little girl medium, and a genius plan to get rid of both ghostly menaces that surely won’t have any chance of backfiring rather badly, as well as a back-up plan that’s even worse. Spoilers, I guess?

As you’ll probably have realized by now, the monster mashing first crossover between the ailing (at least quality-wise) Ringu and Ju-On franchises is pretty damn cartoony (anime-esque?) in tone. But then, this is the hundredth film in two franchises that never were terribly ideal for the franchise game in any case (Ringu giving us three and Ju-On four worthwhile movies and a lot of crap afterwards), and if you have to do a monster mash, you really can’t go for a subtle and deep horror style.

Fortunately, the film is directed and written by Koji Shiraishi, one of the truly underrated horror filmmakers in Japan, a guy who on a good day can make a decent film out of idols screeching into a cellphone camera, so he has experience in getting decent performances out of his lead idols (which he does). Shiraishi apparently enjoys the higher than usual budget he’s working on here, using the opportunity to smuggle in an exorcist/shaman character who is very much like the one in his own Cult, and even a formless tentacle thing as featured in at least half of his films.

As an old pro with this sort of thing, Shiraishi realizes that, if you have a set-up quite this silly, and one that has to climax in something as absurd as a beat down between two pissed-off female ghosts to boot, you have only two choices: either turn it into a meta comedy or treat everything with the straightest of faces, using all the powers of moody camera work and classic shock techniques, as well as Hideo Nakata’s favourite camera angles, to pretend all this is terribly serious and scary.

Thankfully (not being American), Shiraishi goes with the second approach, presenting even the most absurd scene with so deep an earnestness it’s quite easy for the willing viewer (non-willing viewers having no business whatsoever in the monster mash movie watching business) to buy into the whole affair as threatening and scary. It does help that the camera work is generally calmly threatening, that Shiraishi knows other types of scares than jump scares and isn’t afraid to use them so that things get pleasantly tense after a while, that some of the more grotesque moments are as awesome as they are silly, and that the plot flows rather well. Why, even the hilariously bad plan for getting rid of the ghosts sounds like something appropriate to the film’s world, and while it is silly and dumb, it is absolutely the sort of silly and dumb that fits what else is going on in the movie.

So, while the endless franchisation (that’s a word, right?) of everything is of course deplorable, and so on and so forth, I had quite a bit of fun with Sadako vs. Kayko, which is much more than I expected from it.

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