Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
A major box-office hit in the Far East (especially in Hong Kong), Hideo Nakata’s The Ring is a subtly creepy Japanese ghost story with an urban-legend theme based on a series of popular teen-appeal novels by Suzuki Koji. Far less showy than even the restrained chills of The Blair Witch Project or The Sixth Sense, The Ring has nevertheless become a mainstream blockbuster along the lines of these films and has already been followed by The Ring 2 and other Koji-derived films featuring some of the same characters.
Investigating the inexplicable, near-simultaneous deaths of her young niece and three teenage friends, divorced reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) learns of a story about a supernaturally cursed videotape circulating among school kids. As soon as anyone has watched the tape, allegedly recorded by mistake from a dead television channel late at night, the telephone rings and the viewer has exactly a week to live. Those doomed are invisibly marked, but their images are distorted if they are photographed. Inevitably Reiko gets hold of the tape, left behind at a lodge where the kids stayed, and watches it. The enigmatic collage of images includes a coy woman combing her hair in a mirror, an old newspaper headline about a volcanic eruption, a hooded figure ranting, people crawling and a rural well. When the phone rings (a memorably exaggerated effect), Reiko is convinced the curse is active and calls in her scientist ex-husband Ryuji to help…
A restrained but cruel tale, this takes subject matter a US movie (such as Final Destination) would have treated with giggly melodrama and plays it with high seriousness, building an effective atmosphere of quivering dread through committed performances and unsettling touches such as the bizarrely arty video and the way the invented mythology has permeated the world so all the characters have heard of it. It’s the kind of movie whose reputation spreads like the underground tape-cum-endurance-test of its plot, and the malevolent but also pathetic Sadako has a real chance to become a break-out horror character. — Kim Newman, Sight & Sound, 8/00