They don’t make them like they used to

Ring (Ringu 1998 Japan)

 

Tea: Lemongrass

 

I promised you something scary, didn’t I? And I promised something that does not achieve horror through the use of jump scares and loud noises. Well, I might have just found what you and I were looking for. While I am aware that some (or rather most) people will be familiar with Ring through the American remake, it is the Japanese original we are looking at today. If Hollywood remakes are to serve as any kind of indication, the original will be far better developed and less of a writing mess than the atrocities known as American versions. So let’s see whether Ring (or Ringu) can bring the scares I have longed for. Oh, and do recall what a VHS tape is, before we start, it is kind of important.

A myth is spread about a video which kills the viewer seven days after watching it. A childish rumour, the two girls in the opening decide, until one of them must confess to having seen the video in question and the timer is about to reach zero. Reports of the girl’s death and her friends fall into insanity at the sight of her reach a young reporter who becomes curious. She interviews classmates and traces the steps back to a motel where she finds the likely video in question. A morbid curiosity draws her to watch the disjointed images that end with a shot of a well. Just like the rumours say, the phone rings and the countdown of seven days has started. Together with her ex-husband, a professor, she now seeks to rid herself of this curse before whatever horror befell the other victim can get to her.

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– A genius step in the movie is to not show the character watching the video, but rather making you watch it. –

I will just flat out say it: I loved Ringu. It was a fresh taste in this sea of mediocrity. There are no cheap jump scares, no gore making you suck in air, no ridiculous ending, and no over-explaining. This is one and a half hours of solid atmosphere injected with tension building moments until it all climaxes in a grand finale. But one step at a time. An important ingredient in this blend of suspense filled horror is pacing. The film moves at an even pace with occasional jumps that rack up the tension, but always in a very pleasing way, never abandoning a previously established tone, but ever so slightly pushing the horizon further and further. What starts as a rumour soon descends into an investigation of a paranormal past. Yet since the movie weaves these little twists and turns into the solid fabric of camera, shot composition, and soundtrack, the movie never loses its central tone, rather it continually evolves it. A great example is the video tape which starts out as a rumour, then becomes a physical object of interaction, yet only through the seemingly supernatural attraction it has. It is then moved back into the realm of electronics, since it is easily copied, and closely examined like any other movie. Through this, however, another layer is uncovered and it becomes a gateway into the supernatural again. And this little chain can be made for a lot of elements in the movie, most crucially the entity responsible for the murders.

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– VHS resolution, the true horror. –

The killer is often what carries the experience. Halloween without the boiler-suit wearing, white masked Michael is not the same, or rather unthinkable. Ringu marks the start of the horror trend of little girl with long black hair, which you are probably familiar with. And yet she is absent for 95% of the movie, only spoken about or hinted at. While this might seem boring at first, the exact opposite is the case. Sadako achieves an air of omnipresence through her absence. Events which take place are never unquestionably attributable to her and thus make her all the more eerie, since one is unsure of her extent of power. When she finally does show up, it is creepy and satisfying at the same time. No jump scare, of course, but a grotesque performance which alleviates some of the tension built throughout the film, without robbing her of the aura of uncertainty which surrounded her.

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– One of many scenes that at first appear without context –

The sound design of Ringu is on point, as it is a necessity for the atmosphere. Eerie tunes and metallic sounds serve as the catalyst for the horrors projected into your mind. The camera work is equally great with not an obnoxious amount of cuts, but rather well placed location shots to establish a new location or drape an old one in new and oftentimes creepier garments. The actors are all okay, but nothing stellar. I would recommend the original Japanese voices with subtitles as the emotions are otherwise not as well conveyed. This is one of the few movies I would recommend watching alone as the builds the atmosphere more strongly and makes it easier to engage with the material.

There is so much more I wish I could talk about what makes this movie phenomenal, but that will have to wait, since it would spoil all your fun. But rest assured that before the month is through I will dive into the well of black water and dissect this and other pieces of horror to uncover the gears of what makes them tick. Suffice it to say that the most vital aspect to horror is uncertainty and this goes for the time you are watching the movie, as well as afterwards. Your mind is more effective than any writer could be, or any shot or scene a director could compose. Ringu achieved just this, it left me with questions I pondered and an amazing experience watching it. I highly recommend checking it out and discarding any copy of the American version you might have lying around.

 

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

 

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3 thoughts on “They don’t make them like they used to

  1. Ringu is in fact a great horror movie! The most shocking element (at least for me) however, is the simple fact, that the TV literally becomes the medium of all evil. I think that is a very intelligent twist in the movie-spectator-dynamics. All the more, because just about everyone has a TV at home.

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    • So you know it then, I am delighted to hear that. The only thing I lament is the missed opportunity of packaging the DVD in a VHS-case simply to keep within the tone and bringe horror home to the viewer.

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      • That would have been brilliant! They did that with “Sex and the City”, when they sold the seasons in cases that looked like shoeboxes. I think it´s a very nice touch.

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