The Ringu franchise has been iconic in Japanese horror for a while now. With countless sequels and even a series of Hollywood remakes, the little girl from the well has reached legendary status in the world of horror.
Her trademark long black hair, the well, and TV sets have entered the lexicon of fear many times, so much so, that they have lost much of their impact. The latest film in the series, Sadako, premiered at Fantasia Fest in Montreal, and while it has all the classic tropes of the series, it lacks enough original concepts to entertain anyone but die-hard fans of the series.
Sadako once again features the titular long-haired spirit Sadako and finds her tormenting a doctor named Mayu (Elaiza Ikeda), her brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) and a young, troubled patient (Himeka Himejima). In the universe of this movie, the world has largely forgotten about Sadako and what she can do. Due to a series of events, including a traumatic fire, the evil spirit is once again unleashed onto the world, with predictable results.
With the series now set in the modern world, YouTube, social media and the ever-present nature of video is at the forefront of this story. The director (Hideo Nakata) does a good job of setting up the characters and the vapid need for fame in the modern social landscape. Yet, even with all the things going right for the film, it ultimately never lives up to its potential.
1999 first gave us Sadako with Ringu (also known as The Ring) and since then the elements of the film series have been ingrained in horror culture. The four elements: the well, monsters climbing out of TVs, Sadako herself, and the victims dying of fear are all present in some form throughout the Ringu franchise. But when you rely on these elements without adding much to the formula, things begin to feel a bit stale.
Worse still, all these elements have been done better in past films. The original Ringu has had many sequels along with some interesting crossover films, so going back and trying to make a serious story in the same universe without adding much to the lore ends up feeling flat. It is hard to make to make a creepy spirit crawling out of a TV scary when the audience knows it will happen at some point in the movie.
Even more, aggravating with Sadako is that it is a very slow burn. While it has a few jump scares and some interesting shots that do invoke tension, it is not until the last 30 minutes of a 90-minute movie where there seem to be any stakes to the events on screen. With so many slow shots and odd characters in play throughout the film, this fact seems most frustrating. There was such wasted potential on display in Sadako, even the enchanting performance of Elaiza Ikeda is not enough to save the film from feeling bland throughout.
Ironically, if the filmmakers had opted for more tension by using the iconic Sadako a bit more sparingly, the film could have been more exciting. Using the character’s paranoia as the catalyst and focusing on their interactions would have made for a far more engaging watch. There are some great performances here, they are just given nothing to work with to make Sadako memorable.
In a sense, Sadako delivers what it promised: a film about the titular character. It is only sad it had to be in a generic, and ultimately forgettable package. Fans of the series may find something of value here but everyone else should stay far away, what Sadako fails to live up to in scares makes for an overall bland experience.