A blank, unmarked videotape is a very ominous thing. Even if you own it, even if you just bought it, there’s something infinitely unnerving about the seemingly endless screen of static that you receive upon pressing play. What if, just what if the static were to cease, replaced suddenly by an unbidden, fully-formed image of …. Okay, so now what if you found a blank tape and what if there happened to be a strange, scary story circulating your hometown, an urban myth if you will, centred around a group of kids who all watched the tape, only to receive a phone-call telling them that they will be dead in a week’s time. A week later, and they’re all very much dead. Would you still watch this freshly discovered videotape?
The opening credits unwind over a flowing torrent of water, a dark and foreboding image, in effect part of the jigsaw puzzle at the cold heart of Ring. The credits dissolve into what seems on the surface, a fairly inoffensive scene, that of two teenage girls having a sleepover, chatting, sharing gossip. However as the scene progresses, an atmosphere develops, a slow burning sense of malevolence fills the screen as the seconds tick by toward the inevitable crescendo. At least one of the girls will die.
The following scene introduces our heroine, Reiko Asakawa, a single mother and investigative journalist. The story she’s currently working on involves a group of recently murdered teenagers. She interviews their friends, for whom the existence of the videotape is more than a myth. They all believe it exists and what’s more they are certain their classmates have viewed it. Further investigation leads Reiko to a rural holiday inn, where she discovers the tape, lying almost as if in wait for her. Needless to say, her reporter instincts kick in. Unable to resist, she watches the tape …. it ends …. the phone rings.
From here on in, a countdown commences. In an average American movie, the week that follows would be represented as a thrill-filled race against time, which would certainly be at the very least enjoyable, however the one thing Ring thankfully is not, is an American movie, in any shape of form. What we get instead is a subtle, gradual narrative that allows for character development amidst the chills, of which there are – compared to most other horror movies – relatively few but each scene manages to capture a real feeling of fear, the likes of which you will be hard pushed to find anywhere else. As Reikos countdown intensifies the feeling of her helplessness creeps inexorably over the viewer, especially as her situation starts affecting those around her.
The only way Reiko will stay alive is if she uncovers the truth behind the videotape. To do so, she has enlisted the help of her ex-husband, Ryuji. Ryuji is a dark, brooding man who has since moved on with his life, yet he still feels for Reiko and is more than willing to help her. Over the course of the movie, we get a fairly clear picture of their relationship, making it easy to imagine how they would have worked as a couple.
The plot unravels much like another recent horror movie, the brilliant, underrated Stir of Echoes, in much the same jigsaw fashion. Small nonsensical things occur, only to be put together by the end, revealing the entire horrifying picture.
As the movie progresses, the killer is revealed gradually, each step, each scene guaranteed to turn your spine to jelly. Ring does not rely on gore, of which there is NONE, or cheap scares, instead it focuses on a slowly burning fear that develops over the course of the movie. But there’s another layer to Ring. Director, Hideo Nakata has taken a hot current issue we can all relate to worldwide, that of video control and turns it into one big nightmare vision. It seems like every other week, somewhere in the world, a child murders someone and more often than not a video seems to have inspired the act. Parents seemingly can’t control what their impressionable children watch. Ring basically twists this already horrifying idea around to the point where one can actually kill with the videotape itself.
Although it may be hard to believe, given my thus far glowing review, there are indeed faults to be found in this movie. In my opinion, subtlety is a good thing but one can take the concept too far. Certain elements of Ring are so subtly handled as to render them obscure and unintelligible. Having viewed the film a second time, I’m only coming to understand various ideas the movie puts forth. Thankfully, the cinematic version is not dubbed, yet the subtitling leaves something to be desired. In translation, the dialogue loses something, or at least I hope it does for in English, it sometimes comes across as simplistic and in worst cases, laughable.
At the end of the day, Ring is one of the best horror movies this viewer has ever seen and certainly the scariest. In this day and age, horror movies are too clinical to be remotely scary, sure some are able to create a creepy-enough atmosphere but none have had the power to truly scare. The only thing I can really compare Ring to, is the Blair Witch Project finale. It taps into the same fear factor, that of the unknown. If I were to give anyone advice after seeing Ring, I would strongly suggest you stay away from any TV or VCR, at least till the following morning.
But it on DVD here along with the 2 sequels.