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THE RING is the most recent horror sensation in Japan and should become required viewing for anyone searching for the kind of scare few movies are able to provide. It has already spawned numerous sequels and Japanese television spin-offs, broken records in Hong Kong and is fast gathering a cult following in America despite its having no domestic DVD or VHS release stateside. English-subtitled versions are available only on DVD and VCD imports. Still, American horror fans are slowly becoming aware of THE RING through traded copies of video dubs, ironically echoing one element of the film's storyline. Rarely does a movie come along that is able to conjure the level of atmospheric dread this film is more than able to sustain.
THE RING is best viewed late at night, in complete silence, with nothing but the television on. Pay close attention to what you see and hear - this movie will not let you down. Its unsettling mood is set at the very beginning, before even the first scene - a portentous menace of music roils up as the credits fade in over the black water of adark-beset ocean. The chills come immediately. THE RING opens on two girls home alone. One is telling the other of a curse video:
"A grade school boy was on holiday down in Izu with his family. He wanted to go out and play, but there was a TV show he didn't want to miss, so he recorded it on a VCR. But the channels in Izu are different from Tokyo. No channel there uses the channel he set to record, so the tape should have been blank, but when he played it back at home there was a woman on the screen. 'You will die in one week.' she said. The kid stopped the tape and then the phone rang - 'You saw it!' said a voice. A week later he died."
The girls giggle at the story, but there is something wrong with Tomoko (Yûko Takeuchi (YOMIGAERI, BLACK GOSPEL, THE INERASABLE, CREEPY ), the girl who has been listening. She admits that a week earlier she had been down in Izu with some friends and they watched this strange video they had found. They look at each other and stop laughing. The phone rings . . .
THE RING twists down a brooding path after a reporter named Reiko - sympathetically played by (Nanako Matsushima: RINGU 2, WHITEOUT , GHOST, SHIELD OF STRAW, THE CRIMES THAT BIND) - finds and watches the strange video tape. She shows it to her ex-husband (Hiroyuki Sanada: MESSAGE FROM SPACE, SAMURAI REINCARNATION, SWORDS OF THE SPACE ARK, UNEASY ENCOUNTERS, THE SPIRAL, RINGU 2, SUNSHINE, LOST [TV], THE WOLVERINE 3D, EXTANT [TV], HELIX [TV], MR. HOLMES, THE LAST SHIP [TV], LIFE, AVENGERS: ENDGAME) who begins to discern clues from the cryptic collage of bizarre images that seal the fate of anyone who views it. They are pulled into a horrible secret that predates the video itself. THE RING requires the undivided attention of the audience, as Japanese movies - like their Italian cousins- are usually strong on plot. This film is, at its heart, a suspense/thriller that relies heavily on the supernatural, though it is truly a horror movie in the most unnerving sense. But you must be attentive to piece together the puzzle.
The entirety of THE RING is suffused with an atmosphere that only grows as the movie progresses. It is filled with pregnant silences and quiet rooms, abruptly punctuated by mundane sounds that are here used to chilling effect. The level of tension THE RING creates is a subdued and ominous foreboding as the story's level of supernatural horror is slowly unveiled. Throughout the movie the viewer's emotions are buffeted expertly by the sublime pace of the film. The horror alternately builds up to increasingly suspenseful scenes and then slowly shifts gears as the mystery of the video is revealed.
Director Hideo Nakata (RINGU 2, THE GHOST ACTRESS) gives you snatches of strange images that build the viewer's unease. This film drips not a drop of blood nor is there any graphic violence, but anyone wanting to be genuinely frightened will find few movies to surpass the unsettling eeriness of THE RING and he does not let you down with the payoffs. Nakata builds the otherworldly tension until the understated denouement (which comes later than you think) leaves you with a Twilight-Zone-like mental slackness.
THE RING was brilliantly scored by Kenji Kawai, composer for the Japanese anime movie GHOST IN THE SHELL. The music herein is as subtle and disquieting as the spaces in between, as the mood is built with wildly varying sounds, places and startlingly disturbing images. Nakata uses all this to conjure a horror that will send chills down the stiffest spine.
The American rights to THE RING have been picked up by Fine Line Features, a division of New Line, but it is unclear if the intent is to release it (in descending order) domestically subtitled, dubbed, or remake it in English. Movies like THE RING are a long time coming and should be savored for their originality and expertise, so anyone interested in letting this movie crawl up and breathe down their neck should seek out the original Japanese version with the original sound intact, as sound is a fundamental part of this movie's power.
One true test of a quality film is repeated viewings and THE RING stands up to this test unflinchingly. The story is such that one may need to view the film twice just to appreciate the sinewy plot and foreshadowing. Hideo Nakata has created a movie that will fit nicely into the tense, heavy breathing arena of horror cinema. Hopefully the specter of THE RING will be able to creep into every wanting viewer's mind.
I give this film five out of five Shriek Girls.
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