As intriguing as the story synopsis of RING may be, one’s initially reaction can often be filled with some skepticism. After all, how many times have horror fans been fed these same elements of urban legends and horrific video footage over the past few years, and in most cases to sub-par results? In a way, one can look at the story of RING and imagine some kind of half-baked hybrid of URBAN LEGEND, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, all filtered through a film industry that lacks the big budgets of Hollywood pictures (even the most expensive Japanese films cost far less than the cheapest American flicks), and that alone could be enough to turn people away. But those willing to see past the film’s somewhat typical-sounding overview are definitely in for something both unique and amazing. RING is no Japanese take on URBAN LEGEND, nor is it a BLAIR WITCH in reverse, as the synopsis might suggest. Rather, RING is a wholly original and thoroughly entertaining horror film, one of the most satisfying scare films of recent years. The film (and the saga it created with two subsequent films) has gone on to become the most successful horror film in Japan’s history, and has elicited nothing but the most enthusiastic reactions from those few international horror fans who’ve been lucky enough to see it.
The truly thrilling experience that is RING begins with a very familiar set-up, but quickly becomes something other-worldly and unsettling. Two teenage girls discuss the legend of a young boy visiting a resort community who programmed a VCR to tape his favorite show late one night. Instead of his show, however, the boy found that his tape contained some random bizarre images, and the legend states that after watching the tape, the child received a phone call telling him that he would die in one week. Exactly one week later, the boy was dead, and a myth was born. The supposedly cursed tape has been passed on again and again by curious high school kids looking for a thrill, and the legend suggests that none of those who have seen the tape have lived longer than a week after watching it. True to the tale, one of the two girls has actually seen the tape, exactly one week prior, and right before our eyes she becomes the victim of a mysterious murder — an event that sets into motion some of the most compelling and satisfying minutes the horror world has seen in a while.
Part of the appeal of RING lies in the nature of the curse itself, the way the story expertly revolves around it. Like the makers of the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the creators of RING developed a rich history behind the film’s central device. What differs between the two films is how this rich history is revealed. Whereas BLAIR WITCH just tossed its great backstory out on the table in the first twenty minutes and failed to ever adequately return to it, RING takes its time revealing the fascinating and frightening circumstances behind the cursed video tape that is the subject of the film. What is also quite impressive is the way RING manages to avoid being just about this video. While much of Japanese horror suffers from ridiculous acting and cartoon-like set-pieces that hinder the believability of the subject matter, RING features some great performances and well-defined characters, even with such small room for development. Reiko is not just a reporter chasing a story. She’s also a single mother who has a lot of trouble balancing her professional duties and desires with the task of raising her young boy. The dynamic between Reiko and her son Yoichi may be missed on the initial viewing of the film, but it greatly enhances repeated screenings, and even serves to make the film seem creepier (especially when reference in relation to the film’s first sequel RING ).
As is often the case with great horror films, RING avoids showing too much, giving the audience just quick glimpses of its true terrors here and there, and leaving the rest of the horror up to the imagination. What IS shown is done so in a calculated manner to elicit the maximum effect, and it works. In fact, the entirety of the film is shot and constructed amazingly well, coming across as both beautiful and disturbing. Director Hideo Nakata even cleverly alters the film itself at certain moments to take on the look and feel of grainy and distorted video, reinforcing the unsettling nature of the evil videotape.
Foreign horrors are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but those willing to take a chance on RING should not be disappointed. This is a film that really is as exciting, compelling, and (most importantly, of course) scary as everyone says it is, and is definitely must-see fare for those looking for more psychological chills than just your average stock schlock.