12th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘Sadako’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Elaiza Ikeda, Himeka Himejima, Ren Kiriyama, Hiroya Shimizu, Rie Tomosaka, Takashi Tsukamoto | Written by Noriyuki Sugihara | Directed by Hideo Nakata


I am a huge fan of the original Ring(u) movie. I was 17/18 when I first saw it and before I saw it I had heard rumours about how creepy it was. Watching it on VHS only added to the occasion. It was similar to The Blair Witch Project with the hype that had surrounded it at the time, and like that found footage movie, Ring lived up to all of the hype.

It then of course got an American remake (and subsequent sequels), while also getting its own sequels, a prequel and spin-offs. It is now quite the franchise. But like 95% of horror franchises, the quality of the movies is a mixed bag, with the original still standing head and shoulders above the rest. Sadako sees the return of the original director (aswell as its sequel and strangely the American sequel) Hideo Nakata, so I had high hopes.

Linking the curse from the original story and its video tape to a more modern setting doesn’t seem like too difficult an idea but in Sadako it isn’t as clear or as entertaining as it should be. A YouTuber visits the scene of a horrific crime and manages to capture the vengeful ghost on camera and thus, starting the curse. It already feels like a poor imitation of the original and the film continues to switch between the odd new idea and knocking back to past ones from other films, even if never directly copying them. On paper, this is the right way to go. I didn’t want to see another copycat of the first film but I would like to see it linked. But very little in Sadako works as well as I’d hoped it would.

Most of the ‘classic’ Asian horror movies relied on atmosphere, created expertly with music, tension and creepy characters. They didn’t rely on jump scares (well not obvious ones) and were more of a slow burn affair. And once again, Sadako ticks all of those boxes but it just doesn’t do it well enough.

It’s best scene is a re-hash of THAT classic scene from Ringu. And recreating it only serves to remind the viewer that the original is still the best. That said, the scene in Sadako is a good one. But the ‘moment’ isn’t as terrifying or shocking when you know what’s coming. Nakata’s film does have a few other scares but not enough and I just didn’t feel as connected with the characters as I wanted to. The script doesn’t give me enough reason to care about them other than that they’re quite nice people.

Things aren’t all bad. When the score is good, it’s great. Creating that atmosphere that I desperately wanted to feel but it doesn’t happen enough and all too often the music turns very generic. Sadako does create some of its own creepy images, mainly in its final third but I can’t imagine any of them being remembered in twenty years time.

I desperately wanted to love Sadako but it simply didn’t entertain or scare me anywhere near enough. I will have to go back and re-watch much of the franchise again to remember what I appreciated about it. Asian horror certainly isn’t dead but if Sadako is anything to go by, it’s not entering another golden era either.

** 2/5

Sadako opened the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival yesterday, July 11th.


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