DreamWorks remade it in 2002, and feardotcom ripped it off. So is Hideo Nakata’s original 1998 Ringu as creepy as it’s been cracked up to be? Oh, sure. Absolutely some moments of maximum creep here, as when reporter Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) first views the allegedly killer tape (a collection of baffling Lynchian images crossed with the grainy freak-out ambiance of The Blair Witch Project), or when Reiko enters a room and catches someone else watching the tape, or whenever the phone rings (after the tape is over, a phone call confirms that you’ll die in a week), or Reiko’s climactic discovery down a well, or especially the appearance of the film’s ghost in the flesh, as it were — it appears to have been filmed backwards, and its resultant off-kilter motions are just, well, creepy.
I can’t know for sure whether M. Night Shyamalan would’ve had access to an import tape of Ringu when he was filming The Sixth Sense, but the scene of Reiko’s little boy (Katsumi Muramatsu) fearfully ascending a flight of stairs and entering a possibly haunted room has strong intimations of Haley Joel Osment’s similar dread-ridden explorations (not to mention the theme of a murdered girl trying to contact the living to seek justice — yet another way Feardotcom swiped from this).
Is Ringu a horror masterpiece that American horror fans should go out of their way to own? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a very good film, combining supernatural dread and police-procedural stuff (the scenes wherein Reiko and her ex-husband deconstruct the tape frame by frame in search of clues are worthy of — and likely inspired by — vintage De Palma). Except for the tape itself, Hideo Nakata’s direction cannot be said to be bold or even stylish; it’s quite meat-and-potatoes (which can be refreshing), and it relies more on its ingenious premise than on shocks or gore (which can be very refreshing). Essentially it’s an old-school chiller with a new technological twist — and the twist is not so much the video medium as the revelation of how to view the tape and survive.
I was compelled, often creeped out on behalf of the characters (especially those facing the beat-the-clock plot construction, helpfully intensified by frequent titles showing the date), but I can’t help thinking that a movie about a killer video, watched at home on video (VCD, whatever), should make a viewer feel more personally threatened than Ringu does — you should feel as though, when the film is over, you now need to follow the film’s instructions or die. Still, if my phone had rung after I’d ejected the DVD….