Modern technology can be quite tricky if it becomes part of a vengeful spirit, as the Japanese The Ring movies prove.
(Japan 1998, director: Hideo Nakata, original title: Ringu)
After reporter Reiko Asakawa’s niece dies under mysterious circumstances, she starts to investigate a cursed video tape with her ex-husband and finds out that it supposedly kills the viewer in seven days.
There’s no getting around the fact that the first Ring movie had a massive influence on how Japanese horror developed and went mainstream, resulting in all sorts of sequels and imitators. The question is if the 1998 version is still as creepy and frightening as it was back in the days. The answer is: to a certain degree. The slow pacing and focus on investigating where the VHS came from works well, and anyone expecting jumpscares will be disappointed.
This is obviously no bad thing, considering how cheap scary elements are usually part of horror movies. The atmosphere is much more in line with mystery thrillers, as the tension builds up in the course of the story. It’s telling that even after all these years, the effect of feeling uncomfortable when watching the videotape is present and correct today. If one still has sleepless nights or looks at the phone to ring because of this movie is in the eye of the beholder, which might be because the idea of dying from a curse has been done to death (pun intended) and one might not be as easily frightened these days. Still, as a chilling thriller with some disturbing imagery, the first Ring movie delivers.
Ring: Spiral (1998)
(Japan 1998, director: Jôji Iida, original title: Rasen)
Pathologist Mitsuo Andô tries to find the reason behind the mysterious death of a friend and colleague and soon discovers that the curse of the VHS tape has a quite literal viral effect on people.
Despite not bearing the sequel moniker and not having been promoted as one, this installment works as an intermediate connection between the first and third movie, although it’s not as coherent. Only featuring the assistant of Reiko’s ex-husband (who also appears in some scenes), it’s more like a side-story, but one with a revelation about the curse that goes in a completely different direction. Disregarding the telepathic horror and instead focusing on medical illness, it might sound scary with its pandemic-like scenario (especially considering the current Coronavirus situation), but unfortunately it turns out to be less successful.
The first movie had some drama elements, and this time there are even more, with the pathologist’s suffering from suicidal tendencies and depression due to the death of his infant son. This might make him easier to relate to, but also drowns the movie in clichés. Except for very few mildly chilling sequences, the movie feels more like TV material that is full of dialogue, but lacks frightening scenes or even suspense. The ending might be world-shattering, but it’s far from the mythology and scare factor of the original.
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Ring 2 (1999)
(Japan 1999, director: Hideo Nakata, original title: Ringu 2)
A professor’s assistent investigates the death of her protegé and the disappearance of Reiko and her son who seems to have inherited dangerous powers after having watched the cursed VHS tape.
Picking up right from where the first movie left off and using mostly the same characters, it’s clear that coherence should prevail. However, unlike its predecessor, suspense is lacking, because the main mystery of what the tape does to people and what its background story is was already revealed. What is left is a slow-paced but not very intriguing investigation that is only saved by some effective scare sequences.
Together with a foreboding score and jump-out-of-your-seat sound design, one is often taken out of a plot with characters that don’t hold much interest. Being more about the horror of telepathy that veers towards sci-fi, not every scene works, but there are enough sequences with long-haired ghost girl Sadako to provide chills to the bone. It might not be the most original sequel and it’s less disturbing than the first movie, but it’s still quite entertaining J-horror-
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Ring 0: Birthday
(Japan 2000, director: Norio Tsuruta, original title: Ringu 0: Bâsudei)
Young Sadako becomes an actress in a theatre troupe to escape her past, but soon her visions and powers return and the first mysterious deaths occur.
It was only a matter of time before a Sadako origin story would materialize, and as it’s the case with many of these types of stories, one knows how they end. The question is how much the audience is kept on their seats before this happens and if it’s possible to make them feel sympathy for a character who has become the symbol for death by watching a VHS tape. Unfortunately, just as with the alternative sequel Ring: Spiral, emphasis is too much on drama, and that’s not only because of its setting.
While there are a few unsettling scenes and one starts to understand Sadako in the same way one understands the bullied lead of Carrie, there isn’t much to remember later on. True and disturbing horror only rears its head at the end, which means that one has to sit through a drama with characters that are just as forgettable as the actors and actresses who portray them. It’s not exactly boring, but it’s not very exciting, either. In addition, the final twist doesn’t make a lot of sense and only shows how difficult it is to create a true follow-up to the original without offering something fresh and unique.
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(Japan 2012, director: Tsutomu Hanabusa)
The ghost of Sadako tries to find a host to be revived again, and this time it’s started by the suicide of an internet painter celebrity.
It was clear from success of the franchise that the terrifying long-haired ghost would make use of the newest technology to get hold of more victims. Of course it offers plenty of opportunities to critize modern people’s reliance on digital devices. Unfortunately, the story stays as superficial with its social criticism as it does with its characters. What started as an unsettling urban legend turns into a horror movie that is more like a slasher movie where subtle horror is replaced by increasingly more jumpscares. At least the finale becomes pretty intense with some frightening creature designs, although it’s much too late to care for its character or plot development.
The only saving grace is 3D, so anyone who hasn’t the equipment or way to experience the movie in this way will be even more disappointed. There are many pop-out effects, although the number of broken glass flying at one’s face scenes could be smaller. As it is, this is a prime example of how 3D can enhance an otherwise forgettable experience, although that’s not saying much, considering that there isn’t a lot to get scared by. It’s too bad that the sequel released a year later is pretty rare and expensive, as it’s a Japan exclusive, which also holds true for a 2019 Sadako movie and even a Sadako vs Kayako (a Ring/Grudge crossover), so how the whole franchise continues remains a mystery.
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