Remake Rumble Review: Ringu

I think if you see The Ring twice in 24 hours it means you are definitely cursed, right??

With the arrival of the delayed – and utterly stupid looking – Rings, this weekend, it is fitting to revisit one of my favourite J-Horror movies, Ringu, and its American counterpart The Ring made four years afterwards.

One of the original Japanese Horrors, and one of the original American remakes, truly a trend setter for the next twenty years!

It is Sadako Vs Samara.

ringu
Ringu (1998)

The original J-Horror that would spin an endless line of re-imaginings and spawn its own sub-genre of horror, as if copying the cursed tape itself.

A reporter looking into the tragic but mysterious deaths of several children leads her to discover an unmarked VHS tape that when you watch it, you die seven days later.

I remember watching Ringu a long time ago, in the middle of the night, and losing sleep afterwards. Surely everyone knows about Ringu and its sequels and its remakes by now to know the story? Quite possibly the most compelling, terrifying, groundbreaking and influential horror ever made, its contemporary setting opening doors to the horror franchise no one dared consider but now cannot avoid!

Directed by Hideo Nakata (who would go onto directing Ringu 2, the American remake of Ringu 2 and similar franchise movie Dark Water) challenged audiences perceptions of what horror was capable of in the modern world. Effectively turning the medium of film into the murderer, convincing the audience they were going to die if they continue watching.
The mystery of the film has all but evaporated now though… at least for anyone remotely interested in horror films in the last twenty years… but if you have somehow managed to avoid knowing anything about Ringu, I will attempt to not spoil the surprise.

It should be said though, the film hasn’t aged spectacularly well and I don’t mean the fact that we are dealing with a VHS tape (eighteen year olds of today would barely know what a VHS even is!) but similar to Ringu‘s partner in fright The Grudge (2002) this film has some embarrassing stock sound effects. The sort of sound mixing and editing you’d expect from an early 2000s video game… it can be immersion breaking and sadly cheapens the experience.
That however is probably the only major issue I have with rewatching this classic. The film is intensely morbid and relentless. It is drenched in gloom and dark; we open with a girl mysteriously dying and continue on into a funeral, and before long our protagonists Reiko (Nanako Matsushima – recently voice acted in Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie was There) and her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada, notable in Western films such as Sunshine, The Last Samurai) have witnessed the cursed tape and have a deadline to resolve the mystery!
Today, you might snort and say: “Don’t watch the tape!” but in 1999, not unlike The Blair Witch Project, this sort of horror didn’t exist, you were as curious as the heroine to solve the mystery! And surely… a tape couldn’t kill anyone?

Boy that tape… It is a frightening piece of footage they made for the film. It is intensely eerie, black and white and with an escalating, undulating sound of metal scratching. It is unbearable. As well as the weird imagery, ghostly and surreal, it does make you feel uncomfortable and the belief that you have just watched a “cursed tape” is palpable.

The performances are decent throughout, they commit and work with the material as straight forward as it is. This is a no nonsense horror, probably one of the reasons Japanese Horror can excel; it doesn’t get bogged down in expendable scenes and false tension. This film is ramping up to one killer moment at the end, which for any film-lover brings chills up your spine.
Sure, it might be this one moment that sells the entire series but there’s a good reason for it, and without the eerie, atmospheric setup it wouldn’t have been so impactful.

Ringu has dated, but like all good classics it needs to be enjoyed and remembered for the legacy it single-handedly created. If you haven’t seen it, don’t know the story, then get a copy and watch in the dark!

5c8c0-4-5

Additional Marshmallows: I guess I also couldn’t understand Ryuji’s sudden “psychic powers” or whatever he had? How? When? He just sort of… announces he has ways of seeing things. Okay? What is your job again?

thering
The Ring (2002)

A surprisingly good American remake! They don’t make… them like they… used to?

A reporter looking into the tragic but mysterious deaths of several children leads her to discover an unmarked VHS tape that when you watch it, you die seven days later.

I remember watching The Ring a long time ago, in the middle of the night, and remember thinking it was a decent movie. Nowadays I find American remakes of foreign films intensely frustrating; they are nothing more than poor imitations that steal great cinematography to sell to the masses who don’t want to read subtitles or explore movies from other cultures.
However. The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski (this year’s A Cure for Wellness) is surprisingly decent, in fact I dare say it improves one or two elements of the Japanese film!

The film does follow the 1998 narrative exactly and the film’s climax is nearly shot-for-shot remade due to its incredible effectiveness. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But perhaps what Verbinski’s film does better is in relation to what I mentioned in Ringu‘s “Additional Marshmallows” segment. Ryuji’s weird psychic deus ex machina  towards the end of the film. Here, Noah (played by Martin Henderson) has no such gift, but he and Rachel’s (Naomi Watts) son Aidan has a connection with the murderous spirit instead. While somewhat similar it is given foreshadowing (and kids are always good at being creepy in these films) so the penultimate moments flow a lot smoother.
There’s a lot more to the investigation side of the film too. Rachel, our main protagonist, really digs into this VHS tape and we see more of its influence on the real world (tape editing hardware and security footage) and the footage of the tape, although a little too long-winded and indulgent this time, gets more explanation.

I wasn’t overly convinced by Martin Henderson at first, and the opening scene of the tape’s first victim reeks of modern Hollywood horror: “Oh no, the fridge randomly opened!” … why is the spirit opening the fridge? Is it hungry? So redundantly stupid.

But Naomi Watts does a good job here; really throwing herself into the role as the film shows a lot more of the tape’s curse and its affect on its victims. Brian Cox is always a good presence in any film too.
Verbinski gives a good sense of dread too. This isn’t some flashy Americanised tomfoolery named after an acclaimed foreign movie, it does take its time, it does build suspense and the investigation weaves the story together effectively. The original’s sense of gloom and atmosphere is mostly present too.

I was very impressed, The Ring is a good effort in respecting the original while also giving us more about the myth and the rules of the curse without excessively burdening it. It isn’t wasteful, characters are written well, direction is spot on. If I hadn’t seen the original first, this would have been one of my favourite horrors. Well done, America.

5c8c0-4-5

Wow, this has to be the first time that a Remake Rumble Review has been so close. Honestly to argue which is better is to argue semantics, or to be biased for one over the other.
I will always consider Ringu somewhat superior purely because I am biased; it was the first one I saw of the two and as a Japanese production it feels edgier and stranger. The tape footage itself, and even Sadako herself, looked better in the 1998 film.
But that isn’t to say I don’t respect or even enjoy 2002’s The Ring, in fact I find myself with newfound fondness for it. Horror films often work best when their rules are clearly defined and are written well enough that escalation happens “naturally”, The Ring adds more to the curse and mythology without breaking everything. It is wonderfully welcome to see more!

SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD

In fact, one question hangs over my head about both movies. I am afraid it is a spoiler of sorts. But… when Reiko/Rachel makes a copy of the tape and has Ryuji/Noah, and unintentionally frees herself from the curse in doing so, why is she still haunted by the spirit? I would think the curse would be lifted upon copying it and for it not to run the entire seven days?

SPOILER TERRITORY END

Honestly… I can’t recommend one over the other, which goes against my “always watch the original first” ethos. Both are well made films and both do it differently enough. If you saw The Ring first, I imagine you love it (and maybe think Ringu has dated) and that is fine by me!

I suppose my thoughts will remain with Ringu, with its atmosphere and dread over the glossier remake, and that the original should be watched first. If anything you will appreciate the original then see the benefits of the remake, rather than belittle the original too harshly. But both are very well made.

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