The monster mash is nothing new; in fact, once it was quite the graveyard smash. Freddy vs Jason, Dracula vs Frankenstein, King Kong vs Godzilla, Mothra vs Godzilla, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and so on, and it is from the ancient alpha predator’s ancestral homeland that the latest double header horror has arrived, Sadako vs Kayako, pitting the tortured spirits of two separate Japanese franchises against each other, the well-dwelling Sadako of Ringu (Ring) and the housebound but equally resentful Kayako of Ju-On (The Grudge).
With the Ring franchise already numbering at least ten variations across different continuities and remakes while Ju-On has reached around twelve, there was perhaps little scope for director Kōji Shiraishi, and the script credits both original creators Kôji Suzuki and Takashi Shimizu, most likely as it is simply a rehash of various scenes from those works spliced together with little regard to narrative sense or engagement, immediately begging the question that if the filmmakers don’t care, why should the audience?
With the wedding anniversary of her parents imminent, Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) begs her friend Yūri (Mizuki Yamamoto) to assist her in burning a copy of their wedding video to DVD; to do so they must first obtain a functioning videocassette recorder, which they locate in a junk shop. Inside, they find an unlabelled videotape, which Natsumi watches; distracted by her phone, Yuri’s attention is elsewhere.
Their university lecturer having spoken about urban legends such as the “slit-mouthed woman” and the “death house,” Natsumi immediately believes that the strange black and white images she has just viewed are the famous “cursed videotape,” but Yūri is sceptical until the telephone rings, as predicted by the story, emitting an unearthly, high pitched wail.
Elsewhere, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) has been told by her schoolmates that a house in the neighbourhood to which her family has just moved is haunted following three deaths, a man who stabbed his wife, drowned his young son then hanged himself. “It’s a popular story. Everyone who lived their died horribly, like a curse or something.”
With four local boys whom she saw outside the house having vanished Suzuka begins to suffer visions of the house, thinking they are trapped inside. Rushing over to rescue them, she herself steps across the threshold, becoming cursed herself by the entities which lurk within.
While the original Ringu featured a working mother and the events of Ju-On focused on families, in both the lead characters were adults; here the story is carried by wide-eyed, screaming teenage girls, of whom only the diminutive Satsukawa manages to portray any personality, that of a whiny spoiled princess who complains that she has to carry the dusty VCR even though it was her demand which necessitated it.
Where before there was mystery and investigation the accelerated timeline forces a disregard for continuity with Sadako’s warnings having been cut from seven to two days, but that is no excuse for the terrible dialogue which is not helped by translations which are gracelessly functional, the exposition unspooling like a broken videocassette.
When Natsumi and Yūri visit a medium, her response is blunt: “This is more terrifying than anything I’ve encountered in my years in exorcism. There is nothing but absolute darkness. And there is so much evil! Clear my calendar for tomorrow and the day after that. I have to deal with this!” Violence and death ensues, but dubious help is at hand in the form of the effortlessly annoying psychic Keizō Tokiwa (Masanobu Ando) whose ideas are barely one step above useless as he lures the two vengeful spirits into his recreation of Celebrity Death Match.
Where the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises were aware of and embraced their inherent absurdity which only increased over time, the shift from the horrific atmosphere of Ringu and Ju-On to slapstick teen vehicle takes the once mighty wronged women Sadako Yamamura and Kayako Saeki and reduces them to a farce with all the atmosphere of a detergent commercial, perhaps fitting as the filthy walls in the haunted Saeki house it could use a good bleaching.