Hollywood’s suspenseful The Ring offers slow and steady detective thrills
With the late 1990s seeing the state of horror film reduced to a seemingly endless parade of Scream knockoffs, fans of the genre were often at a loss as to where to pick up new material to provide their fearsome fixes. Fortunately for the adventurous viewer, Japan was experiencing a new wave of gruesomely effective thrillers spawned in the wake of the phenomenal success of 1998’s Ringu.
A chilling and atmospheric ghost story, it detailed the ordeals of a female reporter investigating the urban legend of a cursed videotape, one that anyone unfortunate enough to view would immediately receive a phone call—the caller whispering that the viewer had exactly seven days to live. In the original, the reporter finds to her horror that the curse is decidedly real, as she, then her ex-husband and finally her child are exposed to the tape. It becomes a race against the clock as she tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that the visuals of the tape offer and save her family—and perhaps set to peace the ghost of a murdered child.
More a detective story than straight horror film, Ringu is light on the gore factor, focusing more on subtlety and atmosphere to build on a growing aura of dread, and the current remake wisely decides to use the same tactic.
For the most part, director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, Mouse Hunt), remains true to the original. Unfortunately, he takes a misstep in trying to clarify some of the deliberate ambiguities of the tale, which results in those left unresolved being highlighted. Where in the original the murdered child was a malevolent creature, implied to be the spawn of some unholy union between her mother and some Lovecraftian sea daemon, here the child is portrayed as more the victim, which compromises and makes perplexing the entire nature of the tape.
Add to that the annoying Hollywood habit of “referencing” other classic horror films (an unfortunate visual nod to The Exorcist threw me out of “the moment” during an otherwise well-crafted, tension-filled climax), and Verbinski almost manages to sabotage what would have been a perfect horror entry. Almost.
He still manages to deliver with the requisite amount of jolts while maintaining a steady atmosphere of unease throughout. While not perfect, The Ring is still one of the better horror films that studio system has offered in years.