It says a lot about the pace of technological change that Ringu is a film which couldn’t be made in 2014. If it did, the deadly VHS of the original would have to be replaced with an online viral video, sourced from the darkest regions of the deep web, and the crisis would become global and impersonal.
1998’s Ringu, however, couldn’t be further from that concept. Here the stakes are surprisingly low, focusing on just three potential victims of the curse that kills viewers seven days after watching the video. This tactic pays off – no principal character is mere fodder to be picked off, and even the villains are fleshed out, given their own intriguing backstory. Audiences care about each character deeply, investing fully in their quest to fight the curse.
The film starts slowly – after an initial hook where an unfortunate teenager succumbs to the evil elements at work, there is no action for half an hour, and actually no danger at all for the protagonists. This changes when investigative journalist Reiko gives in to her curiosity, finding and watching the tape that has become urban legend. She drags in her ex-husband to help her understand the mysterious, haunting images, and her son finds the film after it is left around carelessly. Now she has just a week to lift the curse and save her family.
Director Hideo Nakata builds up a horribly unsettling atmosphere, gripping viewers even in the quietest moments. Portentous bells ring out as each day passes, reminding us of Reiko’s impending doom. The camera rests in obscure spaces, creating the impression that darker forces are always watching the characters, until the terror rises to fever pitch and suddenly an image of evil spirit Sadako flashes across the screen. There are a number of jump scares, but most of the film’s success lies in its unbearable creepiness, as the characters descend into dark places, attempting to face the horrors that threaten them.
The accursed video itself is also shown, first in a sequence where we watch it in fullscreen, alongside the characters, half expecting the phone to ring in our own living rooms once it ends. Then we watch each frame slowly, taking in every weird segment and subliminal image. One chilling moment involves a character pointing out that from the angle at which the film is shot, there should be the reflection of a cameraman – but there is none. There is pure, otherworldly evil at work here.
Much has been made of its twist ending, however that won’t be spoiled here. Needless to say it’s one of the best-crafted, frightening scenes in modern horror, and will stay with viewers long after the credits roll.
If you watch one film this Halloween, make it Ringu, a Japanese horror masterpiece.
The videotape itself, for those curious: