In 1998, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu became an international phenomenon and with it, one of the most terrifying contemporary horror film characters was born. Sadako was her name, and her trademark long black hair and creepy crawl had audiences worldwide gripping their armrests in fear. Inspired by the novels of Kôji Suzuki (often referred to as Japan’s Stephen King), Ringu influenced the entire genre for over a decade and helped kick off an American obsession with Japanese horror. The Ringu franchise has been iconic ever since and with the success of Ringu came countless sequels, two television series, six manga adaptations, five international film remakes, and even a video game. Now, two decades later, the director returns to that well yet again. Unfortunately, the latest film in the series, which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, is void of any original ideas and will struggle to please even die-hard fans. It seems that maybe, the well is truly dried up.
Hideo Nakata’s Sadaka simply cannot recapture any of the magic that made the original so beloved.
Loosely adapted from the 2013 novel Tide (貞子), Sadako is set twenty years after the events in Ringu and follows Mayu (Elaiza Ikeda), a clinical psychologist whose newest patient (Himeka Himejima) is a young clairvoyant girl who after a series of traumatic events, including a fire, becomes the target of the infamous ghost Sadako. Mayu quickly grows fond of her new patient and does everything she can to nurse the girl back to health. Meanwhile, Mayu’s brother Kazuma, an online blogger who’s desperate to get more views on his Youtube channel, decides to boost his viewership by breaking into the burned ruins of the girl’s house. It doesn’t take long before strange occurrences begin to happen and Kazuma promptly vanishes. Alarmed by his disappearance and other several supernatural events, Mayu sets off in search of her brother.
As with the original film, Sadako explores family relationships and themes of child abuse and neglect which continues to be a pressing social issue in Japan, but these ideas mostly take a backseat to YouTube sensation Kazuma who will stop at nothing to achieve fame in the modern social landscape. Setting the film in the modern world and having the vengeful Sadako appear in Kazuma’s online video stream is one of the few original ideas the film adds to the series but unfortunately it also never lives up to its potential since Kazuma is barely fleshed out. Even worse, for what is supposed to be a horror film, Sadako barely musters enough fear to keep audiences interested. Save for the recreation of that now iconic image of the creepy girl crawling through a television set, the chilling imagery that once made Ringu famous is nowhere to be found.
Hideo Nakata’s return to the Ring franchise simply cannot recapture any of the magic that made the original so beloved. Not even the brilliant sound design (which calls to mind the original Suspiria) nor the remarkable performance of Elaiza Ikeda is enough to save the film from feeling outright flat. Perhaps some fans of the series may find something of value here but overall, Sadako is a bland experience and maybe, just maybe, it’s time they put the series to rest.
– Ricky D