There are few villains as iconic as The Ring’s Sadako. With her contorted crawl, low crackling growl, and waterfall of front-flipped hair, all she ever has to do to make an audience sink into their buckets of popcorn is merely appear. Even then, a simple appearance of her analog proxy, the tape, is often terrifying enough to suffice. And don’t get me started of the drip drip and static warbling at the old well.
Sadako, from Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata of the original Ring (1998) and Ring 2 (1999), has returned to take a dip in that very well, reviving our raven-haired foe for one more terrifying mystery. In the original film, tragic deaths begin to befall anyone who watches a mysterious videotape. After her niece is found murdered by unknown forces upon watching the tape, a Reporter promises her sister she’ll get to the bottom of it, unraveling a supernatural curse that threatens the lives of her and her entire family. She must solve the dark history of the curse to stop Sadako. Or, at least… fend her off.
If there’s anything we took away from the original Ring film (and its sequel, released in the same year) – is that Sadako is a vengeful ghost, hellbent on returning to wreak havoc on all those who dare stumble upon her. And, in keeping with the times – stumbling upon her means stumbling upon her videotape — the cryptic, disjointed cipher to unlocking the mystery of her origin.
Sadako (2019) updates the mythology anew, bringing The Ring lore into the internet age. VHS is out, and online streaming and influencers are in. It’s much more effective for Sadako’s secrets to appear in the flickering buffer of a Youtube-esque streaming page than in the static tracking of an old tape. But don’t fret. Though Sadako has ditched her iconic VHS, she’ll never balk at the opportunity to come crawling out of a television set (flatscreen, of course) at the first opportunity.
Psychologist Mayu (Elaiza Ikeda) becomes cemented in Sadako’s clutches after a recently orphaned girl arrives at her hospital. The only survivor of a fire in her apartment building, the girl (Himeka Himejima), begins working with Mayu and the police to uncover the circumstances surrounding the fire. Mayu instantly connects with the girl, herself and her brother having been orphaned at a very young age. Mayu’s brother, Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) is an internet personality, uploading zany, clickbaity videos to a Youtube-esque platform. But with his views on the decline, Kazuma decided some macabre controversy will stir up some hits; opting to cart his camera to the very charred apartment block Mayu and camp are investigating for some urban exploration.
When Kazuma goes missing, Mayu’s connection to this budding mystery becomes very personal.
“Despite being an easy scare, Sadako (2019) still finds unique ways to present this villain in fresh and terrifying ways.”
Sadako’s lore is so iconic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul who couldn’t count down her characteristics, horror fan or not. Despite being an easy scare, Sadako (2019) still finds unique ways to present this villain in fresh and terrifying ways. When the creep-crawl has become commonplace, I was hard-pressed to believe there were any refreshing and inventive spooks to be had when it came to our villain, but I was wrong. Though Sadako’s appearances are oddly sparse and her motives muddled, she’s as terrifying as ever when she pops up to say hello. Her wet, tattered hair is almost sentient, curling around ankles and seeping out of the well like an inky puddle. Her silhouette drifts across hospital linens, her stiff, statuesque gait haunts room corners. Not fading, wavering, or disappearing — even after we’ve caught sight of her.
But Sadako isn’t part of a franchise that’s been determined to carve out a body count. The Ring series has always been told as an unraveling mystery, a story whose layers are slowly peeled back and revealed at each new discovery. Sadako seeks to continue this mystery, adding reincarnation and expanding the franchise’s original lore, all while still returning us to our favorite haunts and set pieces of previous films. But unfortunately, when you add layers to something in retrospect, you will never be able to add those new layers underneath the layers that came before it. The new mystery does not uncover underneath veils that have already been lifted. These ever-expanding secrets will always sit on the top, adding only bulk and density to a story that should be some more majestic the less you hold in your fingers.
Overall, the storyline of Sadako is a confusing one, Our characters, as charming as they are, don’t justify the return of our villain. And our villain, hellbent on being hellbent, haunts the memory of a franchise with the shadow of the ghost she once was. We applaud her, gasp, and cringe at all the right places, but can’t help but notice her hairline is receding.
Sadako celebrated its North American premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival Thursday July 11. The Fantasia Film Festival runs until August 1, 2019 in beautiful Montreal, Canada. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.