directed by Hideo Nakata
(Toho, 1998)

Ringu -- which unfortunately reached American audiences many years after its predecessor -- is a study in groundbreaking filmmaking. Whereas The Ring was edge-of-the-seat good, Ringu is more about pressing back into the seat ... as far back as you can. Shock and awe vs. creeping dread, and creeping dread wins. In every last frame.

Based on a best-selling pot-boiler by Koji Suzuki (which is itself based on a folk tale, "Bancho Sarayashiki"), Ringu became, upon its release, the highest-grossing horror movie in Japanese history and is still a cult hit, with very good reason: it's an intriguing story that uses modern-day techno trappings to tell an old tale, uniting modern Japanese youth culture with ancient folk lore in a captivating, eerie combination.

A boy sets up his VCR to record a blank station. Instead of capturing pirate programs, he winds up with a bizarre video of a strange woman. The phone rings; on the other end is a voice that warns him he will be dead at the end of the week. He and all his friends then die simultaneously on the same night, seven days later.

The story is picked up by a popular reporter, an aunt of one of the victims who also happens to have a penchant for clairvoyance that will turn out to be a source of strain more than an aid. She watches the tape, unleashing a force that will claim her life if she doesn't find the source of the threat. The stakes are upped significantly when her young son also watches the tape.

The story unfolds with very few shocks but plays out with jittery intensity. Most of the terror arises from the sense of anticipation, which gathers in the plot like a bunched, threatening fist that's held tightly until the very end. The release, for all the buildup, is not a letdown at all. Filmed in grey-green tones, and at very odd angles that make it seem as though something is spying on the main characters, there is nary an element of the film that isn't awash in mood and outright dread.

More than just a horror movie, Ringu is a meditation on technology as a thin barrier between real and unreal, where the line doesn't blur so much as it completely disintegrates. Is there really a ghost in the machine? Is technology progressing at a pace so rapid that it's opened a doorway into another world so that unsettled spirits can impress themselves on the physical world in a way that allows them to haunt us in harmful, even fatal ways?

This is the brilliance of Ringu. It opens up a can of primal worms that far exceeds its simple, straightforward format.

It's also one seriously creepy film that doesn't rely on shocks, blasts of pretentious music or "gotcha" moments. There is no real resolution, which underscores the relentless, unsettling feeling, creating a degree of suspense that has earned this excellent film its rightful place as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. The Ring is a decent cover but the innovation and the originality belongs to Ringu.

review by
Mary Harvey

23 March 2013

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