#13 Ring

(1998, Hideo Nakata)

“There’s this video curse that’s everyone’s talking about…”

Ring is a Japanese horror movie, which gained fame in the West through being supposedly one of the scariest films of all time, and its cult popularity was so great, it got an American remake. But how terrifying is Ring anyway? Is it anywhere near as creepy as the hype makes it out to be?

First, as usual, the plot. There’s an urban myth going around about a cursed video tape that if you watch it, you die in seven days. Investigating this rumour, reporter Reiko Asakawa finds the tape and watches it, leading her on a quest to find out the truth behind the tape before her time runs out. Assisting her is her ex-husband Ryuji, who apparently has some psychic abilities, which aid them during their investigation.

The effectiveness of Ring as a horror movie lies in the fact things are generally more implied right up until the end of the movie rather than shown to us outright. It works off the idea that our imaginations can produce much more terrifying imagery than cinema ever can. Much of the movie merely hints at a malevolent ghostly presence without explicitly stating what it is. It ultimately makes the payoff that little more creepy and unsettling because it’s been built up so much, and we as the audience have wound ourselves up to the point where even a teddy bear could terrify us.

The movie also appears very low budget, and this contributes to its more unsettling nature. It’s not a flashy movie, and as a result everything feels very gritty and real, making the curse feel like it’s actually happening in reality. The cursed tape itself is even grainier, which merely enhances the surreal imagery within as being truly unsettling. Every camera angle and sound effect is specially placed to make everything feel tense and like something’s off.

Even the climactic scene is terrifying. It’s minimal in its direction, and is entirely capable of tricking the viewer into thinking the forces at work are going to get them too. All these parts added together do indeed make one of the creepiest movies cinema has ever seen.

However, it’s not perfect. Some elements of the plot feel rushed and Ryuji’s psychic powers are never explained and barely introduced properly (our first hint is Ryuji saying “because I’m not ‘normal’?” during a heated exchange with Reiko). The fact that these psychic powers are used to reveal important plot points in the backstory of the curse makes it feel a little like a cop-out. Sad to say, the American remake handled this better, entirely through Reiko’s counterpart using her skills as an investigative reporter to uncover the information, something that Reiko herself does very little of here. It is, sadly, the film’s major flaw.

Also, due to the film’s reliance of knowledge of Onryō, vengeful ghosts in Japanese folklore, some Western viewers may find themselves a little lost in the backstory. This is, of course, a minor issue, since this is simply a cultural difference and not a genuine flaw with the film itself.

Overall, Ring does deserve its status as an essential horror movie, but it’s not without its flaws.

Starring Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Miki Nakatani & Hitomi Sato
Written by Koji Suzuki (novel) and Junichiro Hayashi
Produced by Takashige Ichise, Shinya Kawai & Takanori Sentou
Music by Kenji Kawai
Cinematography by Junichiro Hayashi
Edited by Nobuyuki Takahashi

Favourite Scene: Sadako emerges from the TV, in one of the most terrifying scenes in cinema history. Made even more effective through its limited camera angles and the actress’ jerky movements. You will believe she’ll be coming out of YOUR TV next.
Scene That Bugged Me: When we discover the nature of Sadako’s background, it’s told entirely through a psychic flashback. I always felt that seemed a bit rushed and under-explained.

Watch it if: You’re now curious what an “Onryō” is
Avoid it if: Your first thought is “VHS? That’s not been used in years! That’s not scary!”

Originally posted on Blogspot Monday 31 October 2011 (deliberately picked for Halloween)

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Posted on April 2, 2012, in 1990s, Horror, Japan and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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