Attempting to follow the chronology of The Ring films is actually more difficult than one would expect; while the American iterations have a total of three films, back in its native Japan, Ringu has been thriving for years. Sequels for this series range well into the double digits. This latest, appropriately titled Sadako DX after the waterlogged long-haired well-crawler (though what the DX means is anyone’s guess), is a more meta, comedic approach to the content. Director Hisashi Kimura and writer Yuya Takahashi go down the horror/comedy route in a fashion that weirdly fits the material like a glove. The script’s sharply satirical edges make Sadako DX a body-twisting chiller with a fresh idea: what if Sadako’s curse meant you would die in just 24 hours, rather than 7 days?
In a setup that will be unfamiliar to fans of the series, Sadako’s cursed video tape now appears to be circulating on the dark web. Rumors are spreading about an alleged new virus—with all the people spreading the VHS and making copies, Sadako’s curse has taken on a new evolution. Recordings emerge of people being pulled backward and drowned by no apparent attacker, sparking a firestorm of controversy as to Sadako’s true existence. Ayaka (Fuka Koshiba), a brilliant grad student with a 200 IQ, is convinced that there is a scientific explanation, whether that be the placebo effect, subliminal messaging, or any number of other logical solutions. Ayaka uses trial and error on everything, and this situation should be no different. That is, until Ayaka’s younger sister, Futaba (Yuki Yagi), gets her hands on the video. Now, Ayaka must race against the clock to solve the mystery of Sadako, and save her sister in the process.
Taking the ridiculousness to a whole new extreme, Ayaka’s rival, Kenshin (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), is convinced that things will only get worse from this 24-hour Sadako window, and that the ghost girl has her sights set on world domination. Yes, Sadako DX posits that we may be on the literal brink of human extinction thanks to a cursed video tape. A script this silly surprisingly gives Kenshin a significant role in the action—his character is convinced that performing an exorcism in the midst of playing the tape could be key to solving its pall over the viewer. Many other attempts are made throughout to halt Sadako in her tracks, but as she morphs or emerges from a wet blob of hair that plops down from the ceiling, she seems utterly inescapable.
A whimsical, humorous tone mixed in with the scary injects Sadako DX with a bold originality previously unforeseen in the series. A jump scare that happened twice with a giant bear made me giggle, but when the snapping-limbs of Sadako emerge from the well, all signs of laughter dissipate. Sadako’s evil wonky eye is still just as creepy as it has been in the past, and the additions to the mythology from director Hisashi Kimura are commendable indeed. My favorite aspect of this film is that the video is now tailor-made to the viewer watching. For each person that first puts in the VHS, a POV-style recording of Sadako climbing out of the well and emerging directly outside their home or dwelling utterly chilled me to the bone. In the horrific imagery department, Sadako DX is littered with oft-questionable CGI, and yet I could not help fall in love with its quirky charms. A brilliant final frame left me with a smile on my face, and would doubtless be even more effective when seen in the comfort of a crowded movie theater auditorium.
Sadako DX screened at 2022’s Fantasia International Film Festival.