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Ringu   A

DreamWorks / Omega Project

Year Released: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Hideo Nakata
Writer: Hiroshi Takahashi (based on the novel by Kôji Suzuki)
Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato, Yoichi Numata, Yutaka Matsushige, Katsumi Muramatsu, Rikiya Otaka, Masako.

Review by Gauti Fridriksson

First off, let me say this: I am not a big fan of horror films in general. I find that too much of the time, the genre is bogged down by the slightly desperate propensity of most of its directors to knock the socks off their audience at regular intervals. Most horror flicks content themselves with giving us smooth sailing for much of the way, then going all-out to make us jump out of our seats during the designated "scary parts." With the utterly formulaic way most chillers are built up, you can usually spot these sequences a mile away, and as a consequence have time to mentally prepare yourself. You know the response I'm talking about: as the dim-witted teenage heroine walks into the darkened house where her best friend was heard screaming and gurgling just minutes ago, the audience collectively tenses up; we know something scary's about to happen and so we put up our defences. In most cases, we also know that in five minutes or so the scene will be over, blood will have been thrown at the camera, we will have jumped out of our seats (unless we're jaded viewers, in which case we might merely have squirmed a little), and things will go back to normal. Return your seat-backs to the upright position, unbuckle your seatbelts and kindly wait for the next spine-tingling Scary Scene™. Thank you for flying Tinseltown Terrorlines.

Sure, this is a time-tested formula, and when executed well it can be lots of fun, but let's face it: When was the last time you walked out of a horror flick chilled to your very bones, afraid to go to sleep or look in the bathroom mirror for fear of catching a fleeting shadow out of the corner of your eye? When was the last time you turned off your television, feeling at the same time exhilarated and remorseful for having watched something you just know is going to give you sleeping problems? Been a while, huh? Well, take heart, because odds are Hideo Nakata's Ringu is going to give you just that feeling.

The story revolves around an urban legend centering on a strange videotape which inflicts a curse on its viewers: exactly one week after seeing its contents people are found dead, their faces frozen in twisted expressions of terror. A journalist (Nanako Matsushima) takes it upon herself to investigate this legend following the mysterious death of her young niece. Before long, she's found and viewed the tape (in a thoroughly frightening sequence), and begins a downward spiral into a vortex of ever-increasing terror, as her investigation uncovers ancient wrongs, family tragedies and timeless, resounding rage.

No more of the plot can be divulged here without giving away too much, because part of Ringu's delight is in the way it slowly and deliberately unfolds, building up the suspense, heightening the atmosphere, creeping up behind you with eerie new developments, gradually worming its way under your skin until the sense of unease and terror is almost palpable. By the end of this film I was so thoroughly engrossed that when the final sequence -- a hair-raiser to end all hair-raisers -- arrived, I was reduced to a whimpering, shivering wreck. Now, I've seen many movies in my admittedly young life, and I've been moved to many different emotions, but never before can I recall letting out anything like the low, broken whine that emanated from my lungs like air being let out of a tire. Make no mistake about it -- this is hardcore terror.

Ringu's intensity is subtly built up; there are no violent sequences, there's not a trace of gore, and "shocker" sequences of the kind mentioned above can be counted on the thumbs of one hand. The emphasis here is on deliberate, measured pacing and a careful nuance of atmosphere and style, helped in no small part by artful cinematography and a characteristically Japanese attention to detail displayed by both the director, Hideo Nakata, and the cinematographer, Junichiro Hayashi. Both deserve ample credit for a tremendous job.

On the Ringu DVD I saw, there was a special feature that allowed the viewer to see the cursed video in its entirety, from beginning to end -- an immensely eerie collage of indistinct, faintly nonsensical images, pulsating letters, and an inexplicably frightening soundtrack. In a masterstroke of postmodern mock-reality, the DVD's producers stuck a disclaimer in front of this special feature: "The producers of this disc cannot be held liable for any damage to electrical equipment or bodily harm that results from the viewing of this segment..." and so on and so forth. I tried and tried, but I could not bring myself to watch it. If that isn't a testament to this film's power, I don't know what is.

Review published 07.30.2001.

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