Ringu (1998)

Reviewed by Michelle Lee

Starring Matsushima Nanako (Reiko), Mai Takano/Hiroyuki Sanada (Ryuji Takayama), Rikiya Otaka (Yoichi), Yuko Takeuchi (Tomoko), Hitomi Sato (Masami)

Written & Directed by Hideo Nakata

Ever see a Girlcreeture twitch?

Does anyone know how long it’s been since I fucking twitched?!?!

Hooooo, ok, I’m calm now. Through the wonders of the internet and a power known as eBay, and through the massively overpowering curiosity and need exhibited by a certain Roguish Boy, I have seen what seemed like an almost unreachable film. I have seen Ring. And sweet baby Jesus is it something to write home about. Or at least tell all you lovlies about.

Now unless you’ve been living under a casket for the past year or so, you’ve heard about this movie. But just in case, some of us do find our dark scary home places rather comfy and don’t leave them often, I will tell you about the story involved in Ring.

There is a videocassette making the rounds and landing itself in the hands of many a local teenager. No, it’s not porn, which in this case would probably bring a sigh of relief to some parents. It’s just a handy dandy unlabeled and oh so mysterious videotape. It’s been around for a while though exactly how long and where it came from is undetermined. It’s whispered about by almost every teenager in the area and though some may be skeptical as to its authenticity, there’s no doubt that the mention of it will send people into long conversation.

Urban legends occur everywhere; after watching this tape, the phone will ring with nobody on the other end except maybe a really sick sound effects guy, and if you watch this tape, you will die in exactly one week’s time, down to the very minute you finished seeing it. And you will die horribly.

Tomoko and Masami are the two lucky gals who get to introduce us to just how damned awful it is to die after viewing the tape. Reiko is a journalist who has been writing a story on the rumor mill surrounding this particular urban legend. It just so happens that Reiko is Tomoko’s aunt. She strengthens her investigation when she learns at Tomoko’s funeral that her niece watched the tape a week before at a party with a group of friends. It’s no surprise that all of those kids are dead too. Reiko’s investigations bring her to the cabin rented out by Tomoko and her friends the night they watched the tape. While questioning the caretaker of the cabin she sees a blank cassette sitting with various other rental tapes in his office. He claims it’s not his and was left behind by the previous renters. Being a good reporter, Reiko promptly watches the video.

She is presented with a short “movie”. A lovely woman’s reflection in a large oval mirror, brushing her hair. Eerie music and sounds permeate the film. A strange animation of swirling Japanese characters spelling out “the volcano is erupting”(or something similar to that), writhing bodies on the ground, a close up of someone’s eye with a character centered in the iris, a man standing on a beach with a roiling ocean behind him, his head is draped in a white cloth and he is pointing at the ground, and lastly, a grassy expanse near a forest with a well in its center.

It doesn’t seem like much, writing it down here, but damn it’s truly creepy. The phone rings, just like the rumors claim and Reiko hears nothing but strange sounds. She has watched the tape on September 13th at exactly 7:10 pm. Now the investigation really begins. She returns home and contacts her ex-husband Ryuji to aid in her research. He’s skeptical at first, and thinks she’s overreacting. She requests that he take a Polaroid of her, because another rumor surrounding the tape is that once you’ve seen it, every photograph taken of you thereafter will show your face distorted. The Polaroid develops and Reiko’s visage is horrifically misshapen, it almost looks as if she has been beaten severely to disfigurement. Activate spiney tingles now. Still unimpressed, Ryuji watches the video while Reiko waits outside. Nothing. Not even a phone call. Reiko makes a copy of the tape for Ryuji to keep and study more on his own time. When they decide to watch the movie on a special editing viewer at the university where Ryuji works, they get more than they expected and Ryuji’s skepticism fades. They continue their research, gathering more and more clues to the origins of the woman on the tape and what happened to her. One of the more horrifying moments of the movie comes when Reiko is awakened one night while staying at her father’s home to find her and Ryuji’s son Yoichi sitting innocently in front of the TV as the end of the tape plays on in the VCR. It’s a great tension builder because now Reiko and Ryuji have much more at stake than just Reiko’s life; now they must save their son’s.

The solving of the mystery is well paced, and the characters are strong and well acted. Reiko and Ryuji, though divorced, have a good-natured relationship and they work very well together. The performances by all of the actors in Ring are top notch and they all create believable, sympathetic characters, each with well developed personalities and backgrounds. They do not just enter the field of the camera’s lens and take up space. The story itself is both horror story and mystery, a coupling of genres that Hideo Nakata blends so well that he has created a serious piece of atmospheric horror and one creepy thriller. The film itself is well shot; it isn’t very avante garde (which always worries me when I see lower budget foreign horror films) except in the case of the video’s scenes and in certain flashbacks. The style works unbelievably well in these moments because it strengthens the otherworldly aspect of this mysterious tape, it’s history, and the fact that it is truly evil. And the tension builds with each new clue the two leads find, working to uncover what happened to the woman on the tape, and working to break the curse that will soon be coming to claim Reiko and Yoichi. Another great tension builder is the countdown of days throughout the movie. Each day as it passes from the day Reiko watched the tape, is noted in subtitle, to remind the viewer that her time is slowly running out and Reiko is all too aware of this.

Besides the obvious killer visual qualities of Ring, and there are many eerie moments throughout the move, another huge aspect to the success of this movie is the sound. Not particularly the score, but the effects. There’s so much going on that the soundtrack alone can effectively make your skin crawl. In the opening scene before Tomoko’s nasty demise, there’s a hideous skittering sound coming from behind her. The closest thing I can think of that would best describe it is the sound a dog’s claws make on a linoleum floor. But distorted and mixed with various other effects.

I say Tomoko’s demise is nasty, but you never actually see it. None of the deaths are actually seen. You see the victims afterwards, and that’s enough. It only adds to the many characteristics of Ring that make this such a scary film. And you may be thinking I’m just a victim of hype and I’ve been waiting oh so damned long to see this movie after hearing so much good talk surrounding it that I’ve just psyched myself into thinking it’s great, but that’s not the case at all. I figured it would be a huge lesson in letdown. Hell no. Wanna know why? Because the ending of this movie is so freaking superbly done, so evil, so completely horrifying that I was 100% freaked out after I got home last night. I didn’t even want to look at my television. I did not want to think about the movie. Alone. Late at night. I need to mull over good movies after I’ve seen them, but I couldn’t bring myself to think about Ring until this morning. I try to write my reviews directly after seeing them, because the old brainpan is full of the movie and wants to write about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that so thoroughly and efficiently creeped me out enough to just trash my imagination and make me feel like a 12 year old again. Did I mention I avoided my TV? Yeah, I did, I’m a big pansy. But I’m a girl, so there (heh heh). I’m glad I didn’t watch this movie alone, I really am, because the payoff almost made me look away, it was that terrifying. And now that I’ve become part of the hype surrounding Ring, I hope that when all you happy creetures out there finally get to see it too, you can appreciate it just as much as I did.

4 ½ out of 5

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