Review: SADAKO 3D Throws The RING Series Down a Well
Back in 1998, Japanese director Nakata Hideo caused a sensation with his film adaptation of Suzuki Koji's successful novel, Ring. The creepily atmospheric tale, centring around a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it, was a smash hit around the world and threw the doors of Asian horror open to a global audience. The Ring sparked a renaissance in the genre throughout the region, helping bring the work of filmmakers such as Miike Takashi, Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Shimizu Takashi to horror fans around the world, inspired remakes both in South Korea and the USA, as well as a prequel and two sequels of its own.
14 years on and the Ring series spawns its fifth official entry, in the form of Sadako 3D, based on a new novel from Suzuki. This time out the plot revolves around a cursed Internet video, depicting the suicide of a young artist, which causes anyone who watches it to die horribly moments later. Ayukawa Akane (Ishihara Satomi) teaches at an all-girl high school and when one of her students' apparent suicide is attributed to the video, she begins her own investigation.
The evolution of the series from using VHS tapes to Internet videos in order to proliferate Sadako's reign of terror is a logical one, while the idea of releasing this latest entry in 3D is obvious and predictable. The series' most iconic image, of the long-haired girl crawling out of the screen towards her victims, already applies the fourth wall-breaking surprise for which 3D is most commonly utilised, especially in the horror genre. One might think that in today's society, where almost everyone carries at least one screen with them most of the time, Sadako's seemingly infinite reach might be all the more terrifying, yet it proves to have the opposite effect.
Back in 1998, when The Ring was first released, television screens were portals of one-way traffic only. We the audience sat and watched while they entertained and informed, but never was there any possibility that the stars of the small screen could interact with us, making the notion of a character lunging out at us genuinely frightening. It was an invasion of privacy and a jump in our perception of what is real and what is fiction that no longer exists in the same way. Today we are more than familiar with the notion that those we are looking at are also looking back at us - that the screens on which we watch films and videos are also used to communicate with friends and relatives via the likes of Skype or Facetime. Couple this with the fact that many of today's screens simply aren't big enough for someone to crawl out of - just how would Sadako emerge from your 4-inch iPhone screen? - and over a decade of market saturation of her once-unique image, and the film is going to have to work pretty hard to generate any real scares from this premise.
And the sad truth is - it doesn't. While Nakata's original succeeded mostly due to its slow burn of increasingly eerie discomfort, director Hanabusa Tsutomu believes a spindly CGI hand protruding out of a screen, accompanied by a crashing audio cue, will generate the same audience response. Hanabusa's previous film, Go! Boys School Drama Club was little more than a poor man's attempt to bring the spirit of Glee to Japanese audiences, and nowhere was there evidence his talents might be a good fit for horror. But the film's faults lie as much in his screenplay (co-written with Fujioka Yoshinobu) - and possibly even Suzuki Koji's source novel - as they do in his sloppy and vacuous direction.
Delving briefly into spoiler territory, the homicidal video in Sadako 3D has been created by a demented, vengeful artist as a vehicle for unleashing the film's titular spectral murderess on those who wronged him. Sadako herself is simply malevolent rather than fueled by any particular motivation this time out, save for the fact she is searching for a human host to carry her back into the real world. Anyone she encounters who fails to meet her particular criteria is immediately dispatched. What we slowly discover as the film goes on is that our heroine, Akane, is not the sweet and innocent young school ma'am she is presented as, but rather an outcast harbouring a potentially scary secret of her own - one that might just draw the attention of Sadako.
The performances fluctuate from the understated to the histrionic, as audiences have come to expect from Japanese Cinema of this particular ilk. As mentioned before, the narrative is tenuous and character motivations spurious at best. But all these faults can be forgiven in a cash-in horror sequel such as this if the film delivers a handful of good scares and some quality kills. Unfortunately Sadako 3D fails to deliver spectacularly. The first time our sulky tormentor's bony limb and follicly obscured visage lurches out of an unsuspecting student's laptop, there is a brief moment of surprise and a vague acknowledgement that our attention has been grasped. This quickly dissipates as the same gag is then re-used again and again on a variety of screens - including at one stage, a dozen simultaneously as Sadako opts to inhabit a shopping mall's wall installation - and the soupcon of tension evaporates, never to return. For the grand finale, we are treated to an inexplcable revision of Sadako's iconic appearance, in what can only be dubbed the "Spidako", not to mention there are about a dozen of her. Had the film somehow managed to hold your interest up to this point, it will most certainly lose even the most committed of viewers in this ridiculous denouement.
Trading solely on brand recognition, Sadako 3D appears to be doing fairly respectable business, both in Japan and here in Hong Kong, which in no way should be taken as any indication of its quality. Sadako 3D is diabolically bad, and displays a lack of respect for its predecessors that borders on the shameful. Fans of the original film will find none of Nakata's intensity, discomfort or honest-to-God creepiness here, but rather a cheap, almost cartoonish parade of nonsense that will have you giggling at its incompetence rather than shivering with expertly-wrung fear.
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