Fried Take - "Sadako 3D 2" (2013)
The Ring franchise is easily one of my favorites out there, and its terrifying antagonist Sadako is a movie monster that I just can't help but love. Even being a fan of the series and its lore, though, couldn't make me forgive some egregious mistakes made my 2012's Sadako 3D. It was a clunky, gimmicky and all-around uninspired mess of a movie that broke canon and turned into pure schlock halfway through, despite a strong concept and some solid acting. So it would make sense, then, that I didn't have much hope for the sequel, which changed up the screenwriters but kept the same continuity and director, and seemed to focus more on grandiose scares than the low-key chills of older entries.
Being a huge fan, though, I felt obligated to at least give this one a try. Maybe it could wash the bad taste of forced 3D gimmicks and moronic sub-plots out. Or perhaps it would further ruin this once-great franchise, and be a moronic waste of my time. Read on to find out my thoughts on the latest entry in the reining champion of creepy little girl horror, Sadako 3D 2.
Set five years after the original, 3D 2 follows the little girl of the protagonist from the first film, who is now being taken care of by her young aunt. Nagi, the girl, has an ability to predict people's deaths before they happen, and it's insinuated that she can even cause these deaths. This is because she might actually be the daughter of Sadako herself, who possessed the womb of the first film's protagonist and forced her to give birth to Nagi, as a sort-of roundabout way of spreading the curse, and by consequence, killing people by the truckload. And so, the aunt must deal with the moral quandary of letting Nagi live because she's a child, but sacrificing countless lives, or killing a child to save said lives. Or not, because the more this movie continues, the more and more you realize nothing is as it seems, and that the writers aren't afraid to pull several batshit insane twists out of their asses.
This might sound like a bad thing, but it shockingly works in the film's favor. While the first bit of the movie is a completely predictable, derivative affair for reasons I'll discuss below, the rest of it is a non-stop thrill ride. Within the last 20-30 minutes alone, there are enough twists to spin even the heads of Shyamalan or Abrams, and then some. Some of them are legitimately engrossing, and others are so insanely convoluted that you can't help but cackle with delight. Great narrative storytelling it ain't, but for my money, this is one of the more relentlessly entertaining horror films I've seen recently, even if it is for the entirely wrong reasons sometimes.
That sentiment applies to the entirety of 3D 2, though, and not just the ridiculous twists that occur. Sometimes, it's a genuinely creepy movie, with nice atmosphere and chilling concepts that work effectively, and are executed in a competent fashion. These include a claustrophobic train wreck caused by the curse, or when a woman is compelled to stab herself in the eye with a steak knife. But then there are the moments where a woman being possessed by Sadako means that her hair grows to be about 10-20 feet long, or when a man in a wheelchair clumsily tumbles down a staircase in an over-dramatic fashion. The scares are offset by moments that are laughably stupid, and as such, I sometimes found myself enjoying the movie because of how absurdly, obliquely moronic it was. Still, I don't consider this a bad thing, because I still had fun watching it.
What really knocks some points off for me, however, is the fact that the set-up for the rest of the movie consists of cliches, both of the narrative and visual variety. Did we really need another creepy child story, especially when Ringu 2 already tread that ground effectively? Did we need another scene where a little girl is sitting in front of the TV and using supernatural powers? How about another delayed response scene where somebody plummets from a great height onto a car, or where a detective is talking to somebody who speaks cryptically about a killer or a curse? The movie regularly employs very specific horror tropes and scenes, as well as borrowing distinctive motifs from earlier entries in the franchise, and despite the latter half of the movie being genuinely fun and surprising, it's hard to completely forgive these slip-ups.
Also disappointing is the usage of Sadako 3D's unnecessary and frustrating retconning of series canon, solidifying it as the structure upon which future entries are to be based. Sadako is one of my favorite villains in cinema, as she is a complex, fascinating character with a storied past (recounted in Ring 0: Birthday,) and seeing her get reduced to "scary monster that town threw in the well" is upsetting. Yes, this follows the continuity of Rasen, which is called the "forgotten sequel" of the franchise, but even so, it's frustrating to see a character I adore so entirely get her origin story significantly altered from what most people are used to.
Overall, though, I can't help but be won over by the narrative of Sadako 3D 2. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a good horror movie, and a decent film overall, which is much more than I could say for the first in this sub-series. It's loony at times, sure, but in the endearing way games like Deadly Premonition are; it makes you laugh at how crazy things have gotten, only to shock the living hell out of you five minutes later. In a way, it's a very admirably constructed roller coaster ride, in the sense that you know what's coming sometimes, and then the next drop is a lot steeper than you thought before it throws you into a massive loop. There are cheap scares and aspects lifted wholesale from other movies, but there's also an undeniable thrill to the whole package. The writers have also managed to craft an overarching narrative that is fascinating and filled with new villains who will almost certainly return for future entries, and instead of dreading those inevitable sequels like I was with this, I look forward to seeing the new lore expanded upon.
From a craftsmanship point of view, 3D 2 is a flick that is surprisingly well put together. The music, which is complete nacho cheese of the gooiest caliber, might throw some off, but for me, it was enjoyable and fit the mood routinely. Emotional moments are undercut by some overtly sappy tunes, sure, but at least the music stuck out to me much more than the soundtrack of the first entry. And while it doesn't match the highs hit by Kenji Kawai's phenomenal soundtracks to Ring 1&2, comparing this to an established master composer feels a bit unfair.
What's most impressive about the movie, though, is the cinematography. In the first 3D, we had frantic camera angles and unremarkable scenery. Here, we see all sorts of interesting shots that help lend an atmosphere of tension and unease to the entire movie, not to mention imagery that's evocative and dare I say beautiful at times. Shots of Sadako's host laying in bed in a pure white room, or of a bizarre alternate dimension which Sadako tries to drag Nagi into, are some of the coolest bits I've seen come out of this series since the disturbing reveal of Sadako's face at the climax of Ring 2, and out of horror cinema in general. By no means is it going to win any awards, but for what it's trying to accomplish, I feel like the camerawork and special effects get the job done in a stylish, if not overwrought, fashion.
Sadako 3D 2 is not a masterpiece of cinema. It will not win any awards, and unlike the original 1998 classic, is not something that I would define as a "great film." That being said, though, it is completely and utterly entertaining, and downright chilling at times. Not only that, but it gives me faith for this new direction that Kadokawa is taking with these movies, especially after the muddled, mediocre mess that was the first Sadako 3D. In fact, despite it being a flawed picture in many regards, and having significant limited appeal, it might be my favorite follow-up to come out of the series, perhaps even topping Ring 2. It's exciting, twisty, and almost brilliant in its stupidity, and while that might not be a glowing recommendation for all, those who let their defenses down and take the movie for what it is will most likely be pleasantly surprised.