Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Terrible, But A Bit Hairy, March 8, 2013
This review is from: Sadako [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Historically, everything in the "Ring" media franchise has been pretty rock-solid. The main films are classics, and Koji Suzuki's original novel is on par with many things Stephen King has written. The various manga adaptations have also been entertaining, and from hearsay, the TV drama was solid. Heck, even the Dreamcast game, "Ring: Terror's Realm" is so bad that it's actually brilliant as a comedic experience.

So when somebody finally decided to update the infamous antagonist Sadako to be relevant to a modern audience (read: not in a videotape), I was reasonably excited. But while "Sadako 3D" does manage to succeed in being a relatively frightening horror flick with an interesting backstory, its confusing placement in the continuity and the lukewarm plot make it the weakest link of the series.

"Sadako" follows a young school-teacher who is haunted by a traumatic childhood experience in which she was almost killed by a psychotic man wielding a knife. To save herself and her classmates, she let out a deafening scream which shattered glass and killed the attacker. She was then shunned by her peers, with the exception of one boy who ended up becoming her fiance. Fast forward to the present, where rumor has it that a mysterious video is circulating on the internet that acts as a virus of sorts, and forces people into suicide. When one of her students is afflicted, the teacher finds herself embroiled in the story of how the video virus came to be, and tries to stop it before it consumes the world by infecting the entire internet.

Kudos should be given to the concept of the film, directed by series newbie Tsutomu Hanabusa (who also wrote the script, along with veteran horror writer Yoshinobu Fujioka). While it was adapted from the newest Suzuki novel, "S", the fact remains that Sadako being a Trojan is a terrifying prospect. Throughout the film, we see her hand springing forth from a smartphone, and her hair raining down from a giant display on the side of a building in Tokyo. Even though the originals are terrifying, we need to face the facts: nobody's scared of VHS tapes anymore. By making this based upon a current technology, and referencing contemporary issues, the writers have successfully made this effective to a modern audience.

But is it actually scary? Honestly, the horror in this is a mixed bag, mainly comprised of cheap scare tactics. Some of the instances of Sadako appearing are genuinely frightening, and will make you jump out of your seat. But as the movie wears on, she loses her personal touch and becomes more of a force, simply appearing on the biggest screens possible. This is a perfect example of the phrase "size doesn't matter, it's all in how you use it." While seeing the ravenheaded and creepy cutie come out of aforementioned giant display is awe-inspiring, it's never really scary. Hanabusa ultimately fails at crafting a suspenseful atmosphere, and the thrills come from jump scares as oppose to actual suspense. Again, though, some of the instances of her appearing are pretty creepy (one scene of a hand springing forth from a smart phone sent chills down my spine), so people who are easily scared regardless might wanna look away for the first 30 minutes or so.

Unfortunately, the horror and plot both fall apart miserably in the latter quarter of the movie, as it devolves into a C-grade supernatural serial killer drama. While I won't spoil things, I will say that the reason for Sadako being resurrected is laughable, and the "horror" of a psychotic individual killing women and throwing them in a well to bring her back to life isn't terrifying, because we've seen it done before and done better. The fact of that there's a human antagonist makes the film significantly less mysterious. Not only that, the character himself is poorly acted and comes across as a prissy loser as opposed to a believable villain. Another thing fans might notice is that the latter half of the film severs continuity with the original films, making its billing of "The Ring 3" in other countries completely inaccurate. This should be treated as a side-story, or dare I say it, a reboot (ugh.)

But what really unravels the suspense is the supernatural threat itself. When we first get to see what we think is Sadako outside of the screen, she's unremarkable and contrived. Her legs are two or three times the size of her torso, and she runs around on all four limbs like a deranged insect, and can clone herself. Not only that, but she now has a giant mouth, roars, and drinks people's blood from their throats. Yes, Sadako, the prototypical "creepy Japanese girl" has ironically become a cliche Hollywood beast, devoid of any aura of mystery or terror. Even though you eventually find out that those are just monsters the real Sadako (who has a brilliant speaking role this time around) created, the fact remains that the filmmakers had to rely on CGI monsters to be scary, as opposed to actually BEING scary.

Oh, I might as well add that the "video itself" is utterly disappointing, nowhere nearly as creepy as the original footage we've seen in previous entries.

What makes the movie tolerable enough is the camerawork, which is surprisingly good, a shock considering how unfortunate the rest of the film is. There are distinct usages of colors to evoke moods during particular scenes, such as the blues and greens when the protagonist is running from the unremarkable "Sadako" clones. Pretty much everything in the movie is interesting to look at, and while the script does nothing to give off any atmosphere, the visuals are appealing enough to keep viewers engaged. Extra points go to the terse score and effective usage of sound effects.

If you're able to turn your brain off and just be engaged for the visual and auditory spectacle, you may have a good time. Just try to ignore the cheap, bad-CGI moments that blatantly try to "come out of the screen" at you.

Also good is the acting, the most strong performance of which comes from Satomi Ishihara in the lead role. As a victim of past trauma, braving her fears in order to save the man she loves, she's incredibly convincing and an absolute joy to watch. Her performance is incredibly nuanced, and saves the film from being entirely bad. Koji Seto is also a delight as her sweet-natured boyfriend, charming and adorable as he helps her through her various struggles. He's quite the believable character, and I think many men (and women, even) will be able to relate to him. Another great performance comes from Ryosei Tayama as a bumbling, but good-natured, detective who has a poor grasp on anything related to technology, providing some necessary comic relief.

Lastly, when you finally get to the "true form" of Sadako, played by the pretty Ai Hashimoto, you're treated to one of the most harrowing performances of a screen villain in recent memory. For the first time in the series, you see Sadako speak, and get a hint of her true motivations. It's truly a powerful moment, and makes you wonder why the idiotic serial killer subplot was even there in the first place. She's only on screen for a few moments, but Hashimoto is excellent, and I hope we see more of her in future entries.

It's good that most of the actors are strong, because one in particular is so unremarkable that he would drag the entire film down if he had even a few moments more of screen-time. This would be Yusuke Yamamoto, who plays the film's primary antagonist. His performance is incredibly poor, coming across like a cheap villain from a bad telenovela. From what I've read, Yamamoto is quite the charmer as a "good boy" type of character, and my advice to him would be to stick to that.

When we watch "Sadako 3D", what are we left with? Sadly, not enough. There are thrills to be had, and this is still better than most of the flicks that pass for "horror" these days. Strong performances, nice cinematography and a good score make a compelling argument for checking out this film. But that doesn't excuse a plot which becomes contrived halfway through, nor the awful performance of a key character who shouldn't exist, or the deceptive desecration of a legendary screen presence. Extra points should also be taken off for the lack of clarity in regards to where this exactly fits into the canon, if it even does at all, or if it's yet another reboot.

To modern audiences, this film will probably be passable and entertaining enough. But for people who know what the "Ring" series is truly capable of, and know that it can deliver excellent atmosphere and impeccable storytelling with a truly threatening menace, it will be a harsh disappointment. Ultimately, "Sadako 3D" is an acceptable thriller, but a tepid addition to such a great series.

Grade: C+
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 10, 2013 6:13:17 PM PDT
E. A Solinas says:
Nice and fair assessment.

"nobody's scared of VHS tapes anymore."

People were once scared of VHS tapes?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 11, 2013 7:31:34 AM PDT
Elias says:
After watching the original "Ringu", I certainly was! :)
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