RINGU (October 15th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
I can still remember the first time I watched Hideo Nakata's Ringu. I was 18 years old and had been an avid horror fan for a couple of years at this point. My parents owned a video rental store (which I worked at) so I had regular access to the new releases. However there were obviously a good number of horror films that we didn't have. Older and foreign films especially. I knew of Ringu after reading about it in a magazine but had forgotten about it until one day I saw a VHS copy in my local HMV for £4.99. I bought it straight away and a couple of days later, was watching it with my girlfriend and younger sister (these are two separate people just to clarify). We had the lights turned out, had moved the sofa close to the TV and the fact we were watching a VHS copy of a film about a cursed VHS just made us a little bit more apprehensive. This is the way Ringu is meant to be watched and it scared the bejesus out of us. It was also the first Japanese horror I had really seen and I found the style particularly weird and unsettling. 18 years on and I think I have only seen this classic once more all the way through (I think it must have been within a couple of years of my first viewing) and although I could remember some of the key scenes and images, my memory of a lot of it was quite hazy. So I decided it was time for a rewatch.
I mean, you probably already know what the basic premise of Ringu is but I'll refresh your memory anyway. The film opens with a brilliantly tense scene where a couple of high school girls talk about a videotape that was recorded in a place called Izu and that if you watch it, you die seven days later. One of the girls, Tomoko, fearfully reveals that she watched the video a week ago with two other friends and that afterwards they received a phone call. The phone then rings from downstairs and terrified, they answer the call. But it's just one of the kid's mums saying that she is going to be hone a bit later than planned. The two girls laugh about getting so scared. The friend goes upstairs leaving Tomoko alone, who becomes spooked when the TV turns itself on by itself. She turns it off, goes to make a drink and is then killed by an unseen assailant. We then flash forward a couple of days, where Tomoko's aunt Reiko, a newspaper reporter, is investigating the story of the cursed video. After a little bit of digging, she realises her niece watched the video a week before she died. Reiko manages to trace the video and watches it. Any doubts that the curse is a hoax are almost immediately dashed and Reiko realises with cold certainty that she only has seven days left to live, unless she can find a way to lift the curse...
Ringu basically kicked off the J-Horror craze and established a number of key tropes that were repeatedly aped for years by movies that were often pale imitations. In the haze of the American remake and the subsequent Japanese sequels, my recollection of much of the film was foggy and in some instances, just downright confused. But one thing is clear after revisiting it again after such a long time; it's still a great horror movie. However, it understandably does not wield quite the same power as it did first time round. It's actually a lot more procedural than I remember and although there are some really unsettling images and a couple of properly scary sequences, it's quite a restrained film. The Grudge movies cranked things up a notch in terms of scares but Ringu doesn't attempt to make you jump and there is virtually no gore, it tries to do something a bit more worthwhile – and more difficult. It tries to make you feel an inescapable sense of foreboding and on that front, it works wonderfully. J-Horrors have come to be associated with a certain look, a certain aesthetic and Ringu is responsible for much of it. There's a green/grey hue to everything. Internal shots are shrouded in shadows and murk and there's a really strong elemental feel to it too with lashings of overcast skies, wells, volcanos, islands, and the ocean. There's also a keen sense of grief to a lot of it as well.
I actually really like Gore Verbinski's remake which I think captures a lot of this but one of the things that Ringu has over it is the mythology at the heart of the movie. The Ring does that western thing where it feels the need to do a deep dive into the background of the curse and the antagonist whereas Ringu is content to give you just enough to set your imagination on fire but not so much that it takes away the mystery. Quite often it's what we don't understand that frightens us most and there's a really unnerving nightmare like quality that makes it so damn effective.
It's one of those films where I can imagine younger viewers watching it for the first time might not 'get it'. It's billed as one of the scariest films of all time. The DVD cover carries the quote 'It makes The Blair Witch Project look like a walk in the woods'. I think if you go in expecting this to be a deeply terrifying experience, you may leave a little disappointed. But the fact remains that Ringu is a hugely important and really ominous horror that contains a couple of scenes that are deservedly lauded as being up there with the best this genre has to offer. It's one of those films that lingers with you for a few days afterwards and is difficult to shake. And I simultaneously loathe and love those.