Should I Watch..? Ring
What's the big deal?
Ring is a Japanese mystery-thriller released in 1998 and is adapted from the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki. It is largely credited with revitalising the interest in horror movies in the West as well as those of Japanese cinema such as Dark Water and Ju-On: The Grudge. As a non-fan of horror, it has remained my personal benchmark ever since I first saw it in 2004. It made a refreshing change from the endless ‘slasher’ horror movies Hollywood churns out on a regular basis, instead focusing on being a proper psychological chiller which plays tricks with your mind. It is not just a great scare-fest but also a reminder that the best scares are found in the corners of your own imagination, in what you can’t see rather than what you can. The film has since become so successful that in addition to sequels and prequels, it has even been adapted by Hollywood as The Ring in 2002.
What's it about?
Investigative journalist and single-mother Reiko is horrified to learn that her niece Tomoko has been found dead with a horrified expression on her face. After learning that three of Tomoko’s friends also died suddenly at the exact same time and all with their faces twisted in fear, Reiko digs a little deeper and uncovers a mysterious video tape left in the log cabin Tomoko and her friends were staying in a week ago. Watching the tape, Reiko discovers that the tape is cursed by a mysterious spirit which will kill the viewer in precisely seven days time. Determined to solve the mystery, Reiko is forced to team up with her ex-husband Ryuji and finds herself in a race against time to avoid a similar, unimaginably terrifying fate…
Hiroshi Takahashi, based on the novel by Kuji Suzuki
Release Date (UK)
18th August, 2000
Horror, Mystery, Thriller
What's so good about it?
One of the reasons I don't like horror films is because 90% are extremely simplistic slasher movies where you can simply place bets on which cast member will survive purely to appear in the sequel. Ring was the first film I saw to challenge that mentality, offering a chilling story with unbearable tension but one with no typical serial-killer or annoying teenagers in sight. If you're only used to the likes of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger then this film will seriously upset your apple-cart.
Performances are excellent across the board but particular praise must be given to Nanako Matsushima as Reiko. The look of terror on her face as she slowly solves the mystery is one that is etched onto my mind, as is the face of Hiroyuki Sanada in his final scenes. But what really sticks in the mind are the otherworldly appearances of the video itself and the infamous Sadako crawling out of her well. Even watching it today, it still sends a chill down my spine watching her emerge from the TV and crawl towards her victims. And because the film's tension has been building to that point, the moment of realisation is even more shocking.
- Ring had a budget of $1.2 million and took just over nine months to complete. Shooting lasted just five weeks.
- At the time of writing, the film remains Japan's highest grossing horror film to date.
- The famous close-up of Sadako's eye was not performed by the actress Rie Ino'o but by a male crew member.
What's not so good?
Assuming that you are used to Hollywood's endless stream of what Roger Ebert called "dead teenager movies" then Ring will come as a bit of a shock. Compared to Western cinema, the pace is rather slow and the lack of any real scares might put some viewers off. I would also make sure you stick with the original Japanese version - I'm not aware of a dubbed version in existence so those of you who dislike subtitles are also going to be put off.
But frankly, these are minor quibbles. There is a reason why this film remains my benchmark for horror film after all these years - it is absolutely terrifying. It doesn't rely on ghost-train jumps or body-horror (things we've all seen dozens of times before) but instead, it utilises the smartest tactic for films of this nature. It's what you don't see that really scares you as your imagination runs wild.
Should I Watch It?
Absolutely. Even if horror isn't your thing, Ring makes an indelible impression that is impossible to forget. It's a powerful and evocative reminder that sometimes tension and anticipation are much more frightening than a madman with an axe, a lesson Hollywood seems to have forgotten since Alfred Hitchcock passed away.
Great For: horror fans, Halloween parties, costume ideas
Not So Great For: date nights, scaredy cats, young kids
What other films should I watch?
In terms of other horror movies to recommend, it's probably safe to stick with the classics - The Exorcist and The Omen are two great films that don't necessarily rely on blood and guts like the majority of horror films these days seem to but instead use proper story-telling to chill the blood. As a curveball, might I also suggest Donnie Darko which is not strictly a horror film but equally as disturbing and as memorable as Ring and works on a similar level.
Generally speaking, I'm not much of a horror fan and what few films I do see fail to match the sheer terror that this film provoked in me. There is a sequel out there - Ring 2 - as well as the prequel, amusingly called Ring 0 but I have yet to watch either of these and frankly, I'm not likely to either! I also have no real desire to expose myself to the American remakes because I seriously doubt that they will be as effective a chiller as this.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox