As I’ve said before, the 1990’s was an age of change for the horror genera, but not every hit scary movie came from America, in fact some of the best horror films were coming from the East. Case in point the 1998 picture “Ringu”, translated in America as “Ring”. This is the original international box office sensation that started it all. What do I mean by “started it all”, well, “Ringu” was one of those underground hits that popped overseas, and created a new Western obsession. One can’t undermine what a big game changer this was for the horror genera, and how “J-Horror” really took shape after this film. What is “J-Horror”, well, for simplicities sake, let’s just say that “Ringu” was a major influence on future American horror movies such as “The Grudge”, “Shutter”, “Pulse”, “Dark Water” and obviously “The Ring”. I’ll make comparisons to the films American remake later in this review, but for the most part, I’m just going to be looking at the film on its own merits. Most big horror movies of the 90’s, even the best ones still feel like products of their time, but “Ringu” is an exception as it genuinely feels like something that could have come from any decade, that is with the slight exception of VHS tapes, those really aren’t around anymore.
The story revolves around the urban legend of a cursed video tape that will kill anyone within a week of watching it. Further speculations say that death will take the form of a decayed girl when their time runs out. Some say its crazy superstition, while others are scared to death of it. Before too long, several deaths occur, all of which are connected to the mysterious video tape. This gets the attention of a female news reporter who digs just a little too deep into the story, to the point where she actually watches the video herself. To make matters worse, both her Ex-husband and son view the tape, which means each has a week left to live. Now it’s a race against the ticking clock to solve the mystery of the cursed video, track down clues and find a way to lift the curse before the “dead line”.
You really have to be in the right state of mind to appreciate this movie, because in truth, not much happens on screen and the majority of the film is spent watching our two leads dig up clues. It’s more like a supernatural mystery thriller, and the film moves at an admittedly slow pace. While this can be boring for some viewers, I like it a lot because I feel more drawn into the experience, and it allows the scares to sneak up on me. I especially love how quiet the film is, there are no obnoxious loud jump scare sounds, and a constant feel of dread that’s slowly building. I think “Ringu” has some of the best eerie atmosphere of any other horror film from this decade, but you really have to be open to it. This also makes select terrifying moments stand out more when they come in small doses. One of my favorite shock scenes comes in the form of a quick flash back involving a mother discovering her dead doubter. The girls stiff and disfigured face is as disturbing as any image from the horror cinema portfolio. The opening sequence is also like a small masterpiece in of itself, with great build up, and establishes all the important elements ranging from the mysterious phone calls, to the “seven days” message that follows after watching the video. The video tape itself is like something from an experimental art class, with cryptic imagery, and hidden messages. Another great visual is that whenever someone watches the video, their faces get distorted in pictures, as if to say their marked for death.
The cast is very good and I really like our two main characters. Nanako Matsushima plays our female lead, and she delivers a solid performance all around. Her Ex-Husband is also a very likable character, and it’s cool to see them come together to solve this mystery. It’s established that the ex-husband of our leading news reporter was born with capabilities of ESP. This seemed kind of random and out of place at first, but it actually fits into the story, especially as we see the mystery unfold. It’s revealed that the curse of this tape all began with a little girl who also had ESP. However, she was far more dangerous, uncontrollable, and even killed someone just by thinking it. This is where the popular image of a scary, watered down girl in a dirty dress with lots of dark hair covering the face first took shape. Countless other horror movies would try to recreate this design, but they’d usually go too far by revealing what the apparition looked like under all that hair. This is where “Ringu” really shines, as we never see the girls face, with the exception of one menacing eye, but the less shown the better.
Just a fair warning, this is where I’ll be talking about some big details in the films brilliant twist ending, so spoiler alert. What started as a supernatural mystery becomes a story of “revenge beyond the grave”, as our hero’s discover that the girl was in fact murdered by her own father. Her body was dumped down a well, which gives our hero’s a plan to lift the curse. Maybe if they find her corps and bury it properly, this reign of terror can finally end. This leads into a deeply chilling scene with the two in a claustrophobic and dirty well looking for her remains. When all the exploring is said and done, it seems that the two have lifted the curse because our lead heroine is still alive after her cutoff date. Everyone is happy, the two think they’ll finally get back together, their son seems safe ... but wait a minute, the movie is still going. Why aren’t the credits rolling, we just had a thrilling and emotional resolution. That’s when it happens, the movie’s most iconic and disturbing scene hits us in the face with full force as the little girl crawls out of the TV and kills the ex-husband. Turns out they didn’t lift the curse at all, the reporter simply found a way to avoid dying at the hands of the demonic child. The solution is to make copies of the video and show it to someone close to you. It’s like a chain letter, because you have to keep making copies and showing it to people in order to stay alive. This was a brilliant twist ending that I didn’t see coming.
I personally feel very lucky to have seen the Japanese original before the American remake, which would have spoiled the experience, but unfortunately, I don’t think too many others can say the same. The 2002 remake of “The Ring” was an equally big hit, and often regarded as one of the scariest movies of its decade. Most American remakes are shunned for being unoriginal, but to be fair, the American remake of “The Ring” really wasn’t that bad, and is often regarded as a small classic in its own right. The remake definitely had more excitement, terrific visuals and more memorable scary moments, but I still prefer the original for its simplicity and eerie atmosphere. As for the sequel “The Ring 2”, it has that reputation for being inferior to its predecessor, so I never bothered. The irony is that the American sequel was actually directed by Hideo Nakata who directed the original “Ringu”, isn’t that interesting.
If you haven’t seen these films, and had to pick either “Ringu” or its American remake, I’d highly recommend seeing its original Japanese version first. Granted the American remake may entertain you more, but the original just feels scarier to experience, and you just can’t deny the originality of the film. It’s method of combining supernatural elements with the anxieties of modern technology is still very innovative and honestly quiet frightening to experience as long as you’re in the right mind set. Without a doubt, this is one of the better classic horror films of the 90’s, and one that still holds up today. It was ambitious, highly original, unnerving and just a great entry into the history books of scary movies.
I give “Ringu” 4 stars out of 5.