Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sadako (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
When Hideo Nakata’s Ring was released in 1998, it changed the face of horror forever. Western cinemagoers were unprepared for the back to basics focus on fear that Nakata’s cleverly constructed ghost story delivered, and the success of the film created a massive appetite for Japanese horror cinema that has never gone away. Remakes and sequels to Ring never quite recaptured that magic, however. Now the original director has returned with a new take on the story that brings its curse into the modern age.
The opening film at the 2019 Fantasia international Film Festival, it begins with something very old but still pertinent in Japanese society: the idea of reincarnation. A little girl (Himeka Himejima) is locked in a closet with only a mobile – of the traditional, suspended kind – for entertainment. Her mother, nervous even about bringing her food, calls her Sadako, accuses her of being the reincarnation of the murdered girl whose vengeful spirit has haunted the franchise. After a tragedy occurs, the girl finds herself in a hospital under the care of devoted young doctor Mayu (Elaiza Ikeda) who tries to draw her out of herself and give her some confidence as visiting police officers try to find out more about her. Meanwhile, away by the sea, an elderly woman tends a shrine by what she describes as Sadako’s cave, the home of a troubled spirit – and discovers that a mysterious cave-in has occurred.
Where Ring presented us with a mother desperately trying to protect her child, this film has its heroine trying to save a child who might herself be the source of danger – but Mayu is also tangled up in events in another way. Her wayward younger brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) is a would-be YouTube star who has recently decided to branch out from wacky stunts into paranormal investigations. Fans will know that Sadako’s curse perpetuates itself through visual media, and what he captures in a video taken in the girl’s former home threatens to spread it like never before.
Nakata clearly expects his audience to be familiar with the series, and although it could technically stand alone, this film will make a much bigger impression on those already inspired to feel terror at the sight of Sadako or the sound of dripping water. In addition to this, much of its power derives from Japanese cultural concerns, which won’t mean as much to most Western viewers. This factors into depictions of family relationships, especially those between mothers and children, which are at the core of the film. There’s a richness to this thematic content that makes it more than just a scarefest.
When it comes to scares, however, Sadako delivers. Ikeda is a strong lead who invests heavily in her character but her most remarkable feature is a pair of eyes which allow her to express terror with the intensity of an animé character. Nakata’s brilliant sound design creates moments of profound tension which she utilises to tremendous effect. For most of its running time, the film is primarily focused on character interaction. In these moments however it delivers deep chills of the sort that made Nakata’s name. Though it never quite achieves the haunting power of the original, this beautifully composed film serves to remind newcomers how it’s done. If you should hear water dripping in the night, you won’t get back to sleep.Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2019