I always seem to end up watching horror movies on my own. Very few of my friends, and definitely not my girlfriend, actually like scary films, and though my Dad likes a couple my Mum always essentially banned them from the house (Carrie is her least favourite film of all time, possibly the main reason my Dad still has it on video back at their house). And so it was that I ended up watching Ring, the Japanese 1998 original, alone. It's subtitled, which rules out the only people I know that would have been willing to watch it with me, but as I was expecting something thoroughly disturbing, bordering on terrifying, I made sure to watch it first thing on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. I even left a curtain open to stream in some sunlight, just not the one that gives glare on the screen.
I've seen the remarkably successful Gore Verbinski US remake of this film and found it thoroughly underwhelming and forgettable, so much so that going in I couldn't really remember much about it, other than the basic plot and at some point it involved a well, so I was actually largely looking forward to this viewing, to see what all the fuss was about.
The premise is delightfully simple - there's an unmarked videotape that, after you watch it you receive a phone call, and exactly 7 days later you die. A group of friends watched the video a week ago from the start of the film, and they all die, with no cause of death. Two were even found in a car locked from the inside, their faces similarly locked in a mask of terror. The aunt of one of these victims is Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) a newspaper journalist working on a story about the tape. Believing the story, she sets out to discover the truth. That point right there is where I get annoyed with the plot. I know traditionally the characters in horror films aren't always the brightest bulbs in the box, but this is ridiculous. Reiko believes that if someone watches the tape, they will die in seven days, so when she discovers a mysterious, unmarked tape found in the youth's cabin, she gleefully sits down and watches it, then takes it with her and shows it to her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), thereby damning him as well. She even makes him a copy! I'd understand if she was depicted as sceptical or downright disbelieving, but from the start she seems genuinely on board with the idea that a video can kill you. Oh, and it's not that big of a spoiler to say that she leaves it around the house for her young son to find and watch too; now that's good parenting. I'm still not sure why, at any point in the film, no-one took a claw hammer to the video and smashed it to bits, as had this been done directly after Ryuji had seen it, the outcome would have been roughly the same, but without the need for any future work.
The video itself is quite disconcerting; a series of seemingly random images and clips of a girl combing her hair in a mirror, writing characters rearranging themselves, people crawling around on the floor, a blinking eye, the aforementioned well and a man standing by a large body of water with a hood over his head, pointing. The grainy footage and eerie soundtrack add to the feeling of discomfort, but it was nowhere near as disturbing as I was expecting. In fact, and this may be because of my immunisation by dumbed down, mainstream US horrors, I was actually disappointed that the film wasn't more disturbing. There is a rising sense of dread throughout, but it's not until a scene near the end that this comes to a head, and the only really scary image, the weird overly bulging eye from the disc cover, is briefly glimpsed. The point at which some characters revealed they were privy to psychic powers also took me out of the film a great deal.
I foolishly watched this film on a morning when I was expecting a phone call, and sure enough about an hour in the call came, but I did not jump out of my skin or cower in terror as I thought I might, but it did raise the question as to how many people out there have received a call mere moments after the film has finished, just like after those that watch the video in the film? Chances are there are dozens, if not hundreds of people out there who have experienced this, and, for a little while at least, have maybe feared for their lives. That's the great thing about the premise; once you've watched the video, there's not a lot you can do about what's going to happen. It's a fear of the inevitable. There is no killer, not of this world anyway, so there's no bargaining, no reasoning, few would believe you if you asked for help and there's nothing they could do anyway.
A lot is done with a little in the film, with almost no special effects and most of the film being characters worrying or performing an All The President's Men style investigation into the tape. The conclusion though is hurried and uses a hastily arrived at, unproven theory that happens to fit the one scenario in the film, yet is taken as the only logical solution. This, along with the other plot annoyances, took me out of the film too much, but I'm very glad it didn't ever resort to cheap surprise shocks.
Choose life 6/10