In this psychological horror story from Japan, a legend circulates among teenagers that if one watches a certain video at a certain time of the night, the telephone will ring right afterward, and one week later, you will die. When Masami (Hitomi Sato) tells her friend Imako this story, she scoffs — but a week later, Imako dies. Imako’s aunt, a television journalist named Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), hears that not long before she died, Imako was watching a strange video with her friends — all of whom have turned up dead. Reiko tracks down a copy of the video, and as she watches its strange, spectral images, the telephone begins to ring….The next morning, Reiko begins a desperate search to solve the mystery of the video, convinced she has only seven days to live; assisting her is Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a mathematics expert and her former husband.
What else can be said about Ringu (or simply Ring) that hasn’t been said already? This is without a doubt one of the most influential horror movies in cinematic history. If you have seen any horror movie that features the main villain as somebody with long, black hair, then it is because of this film.
From the opening frames of Ringu, it is crystal clear that director Hideo Nakata knows what he is doing. Even though the first few shots of the film aren’t literally terrifying in the sense of something crazy happening, they still manage to send shivers down my spine with its incredible atmosphere. Horror is my favorite film genre. Filmmakers can do so much with it, and if you are able to creep me out with a film, then that is something that should be applauded. Fear is subjective to all, but it seems like almost everybody agrees – Ringu is extremely unnerving.
But it’s not just the elusive Sadako Yamamura (Rie Inō) that makes this film wildly entertaining, it’s the story at its core. It’s a ton of fun to watch Reiko Asakawa trying to uncover this mystery of the cursed video tape, and as the film progresses, the tension heightens to a point where you feel like you can’t breathe. The whole concept of Ringu is that, if somebody watches the cursed tape, they get a phone call immediately afterwards that says that they will die in seven days. There’s one point in the movie where Reiko says that she doesn’t have much time left until she dies, and you feel like there’s a big race against the clock. If Reiko and Ryūji don’t succeed in their desperate attempt at solving the mystery, they will die, and that will leave Reiko’s young son Yōichi in danger, too.
It’s also a film that almost never uses jump scares thankfully. There is nothing more frustrating than a horror movie that falls back on them so much, to the point where there is nothing else the filmmakers have up their sleeve. This is something that a lot of horror films, especially these days, tend to do. Even the 2017 film Rings did this, and was met with massive critical and audience backlash, which is understandable.
Every scare here is purely psychological. Nearly every scene feels frighteningly grounded in reality, despite the whole “cursed tape” concept that fuels the plot. Even when somebody simply turns a corner, there feels like there could be something dangerous that may happen. But at the center of Ringu is the characters. Whenever we uncover certain details about the characters, it always progresses the plot in a satisfying yet interesting way, setting up the next scene, and leading to a finale that is incredibly intense, and an ending that has since become one of the most iconic horror movie endings ever.
There are some moments here in which a few characters feel like exposition dump characters, namely Sanada’s Ryūji. A large number of scenes focus on him explaining a ton of things to Reiko, and while yes, it can feel a bit tired, the rest of the film is so strong and compelling that it is extremely easy to forgive.
Nakata’s film is one that will forever remain relevant and influential for filmmakers. It reinvigorated the horror genre, but besides all the creepy “things go bump in the night” type sequences, at its core, Ringu is a film about paranoia, death, and family, and a creepy yet surprisingly beautiful one at that.
Ringu is an utterly riveting, deeply atmospheric psychological thrill-ride that contains interesting characters and is wildly suspenseful.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Ōtaka, Yoichi Numata
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Distributed by: Toho
Release Date: January 31, 1998 (Japan)
Running Time: 95 minutes