I had never had much interest in The Ring or its Japanese predecessor, mentally sorting it with the fleet of foreign horror imports and adaptations that all came around the same time. When our own Doc Rotten included it as part of his October Horror Extravaganza, my interest piqued a bit. After all, he included some pretty iconic and memorable horror movies on his list, so maybe Ringu was better than I was giving it credit for. The truth is that it’s significantly better than I was expecting, and seeing it is almost enough motivation to check out the American remake as well.
Playing with the power of urban legend, Ringu centers around a mythical “cursed videotape” that contains a variety of weird imagery concluded with an announcement that the viewer will die in a week. When someone watches the video, the conclusion of the tape is followed by a phone call, which serves as a reminder of the viewer’s fate. We first join this urban legend at the end of the cycle, as a young girl is terrified during a sleepover because she saw the tape and a week has passed. Then the story shifts to Reiko, an investigative reporter (Nanako Matsushima) who is investigating the cursed tape and winds up watching it. As if that isn’t terrible enough, her young son also watches the video as she’s investigating it, meaning both the reporter and her son will be killed if they can’t figure out what’s going on.
Initially I was skeptical about the story of Ringu because the original legend, as repeated several times by some of the young girls, is very particular. When we finally see Reiko view the tape, the process is very different than what the story dictated, making me disbelieve that she was actually in danger. It is only because of Reiko’s insistence of her danger and the subsequent bizarre encounters that build the terror of Reiko’s situation. I just wish there was consistency between Reiko’s viewing of the tape and the urban legend the story establishes to help create a sense of the reporter being in jeopardy the moment she watches the tape.
Ringu is almost more of a mystery than a horror story, with Reiko and her ex-husband Ryuji attempting to determine the origin of the tape and what the visuals depict. The result is a fascinating story of psychic power, abuse, and bastard parentage that slowly unfolds throughout the narrative. The story of Sadako, the girl depicted in the video and in the film’s iconic shot, is heartbreaking and it’s hard not to sympathize with her, even if she has become a vengeful spirit who is needlessly killing people. Adding to the feeling of mystery rather than horror, Ringu is one of those movies that achieves more by showing the audience less. We see some creepy stuff, but most of the horrific ideas are kept off screen. When the young girl is killed at the beginning of the movie, we only see her look of terror frozen on the screen, not what actually terrifies her. It’s a great technique that fits perfectly with the other movies from this week, all movies that have concepts that can be more terrifying by depicting them less on screen.
Ringu isn’t the kind of horror movie that will keep people from sleeping, but it might make them a little wary about sticking unlabeled videotapes in the old VCR (assuming that’s even a concern anymore). It’s a mystery story with a supernatural bent more than a horror flick. I can even imagine showing this to my wife, who hates horror with a passion, but would probably enjoy watching the mystery unfold. I can’t testify as to the American remake’s effectiveness, but Ringu as an original picture is quite unique and enjoyable.