Ring (AKA Ringu):
Directed with a sure hand by Hideo Nakata, who based the movie on the original 1992 novel by Kenji Suzuki, Ring still has the power to thoroughly creep you out 20-years later. When some high-school students all die mysteriously on the same day, intrepid reporter Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) digs into current rumors about a cursed video tape - once you watch it, you have only 7 days to live - fitting the puzzle pieces together while endangering herself, her son, and anyone who gets too close.
Having caught the buzz from that late ‘90s Fangoria feature about Japanese horror, thoughts of Ring had circled in my head until early 2002. Was the movie really the scariest one ever? Based on my viewing, as a well-seasoned horror veteran at the time, yes. Yes, it was. My wife at the time happened to be in Tokyo for an extended period, so it was just me, all alone in the house, with a rented bootleg of Ring. (The movie was pointedly unavailable in the States in an official release at the time. I think my copy came from Video Search of Miami.) Certainly there's something to be said for watching a dodgy, duped cassette of a movie about a really dodgy duped cassette, but whatever the case; maybe it was that all the lights were out, maybe it was the beer I had in me, by the end of the movie, was I peeking out from behind a pillow? Yes, yes I was.
Cut to 2019, and the shock of the new has worn off, nonetheless, this review is spoiler free. Nakata's movie is a masterpiece, every aspect of which is designed to draw you in; closer to the story, closer to the screen, scanning every inch of visual information for something nasty, listening for the slightest sound. This cinematic level of heightened awareness, attention, and dread is very rarely relieved, either, save for a few startling music cues and loud telephones.
Ultimately, Ring isn't a film for gore-hounds, (obviously) nor is it a movie for people who like screaming, Fun-house scares. It's a simple, no-nonsense engine that plays a bit with themes of predestination versus free will, but mostly gets down to what really scares us: cloudy vision, things hidden in the dark; knowing that something's in the room, in the dark, something that means us ill; being unable to do anything about it. Ring as a movie is a bad friend slowly leading you into the basement, and shutting you in before running off in the dark. Your toes start to curl in delicious agony long before you find that unwholesome shape in the shadows, before you're finally able to scream. DVD Talk Collectors Edition.
On the other hand, the movie bears more than a few passing resemblances to another lesser horror sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, as much time is spent with off-kilter researchers putting electrode hats on young subjects as a way to draw the evil into everyday reality. While a fantastic soundtrack ratchets up as much tension as possible, scares remain a bit anemic. The finale races against time in similar fashion to the first movie, while Sadako's antics generate some frisson and real fear, but other shock scenes may be a bit too cerebral for some. Those mainly involve a survivor from the first movie, who has gone insane and may be harboring something evil, which manifests by her face being oh-so-gradually revealed on videotape as being a little creepy.
Ring 2 should probably have a space on most respectable horror collector's shelves; it's a fine example of the genre, but it lacks a big payoff, as well as much replay value, so consider it simply Recommended.
Dr. Ando, a colleague of original Sadako victim Ryuji Takayama, is called on to determine the cause of death for his former friend, and gets down into the nitty gritty with a fairly graphic autopsy - the first and only time any type of blood has been a serious element of a Ring movie. What he finds leads him to determine that Takayama was killed by some type of virus that causes heart-attacks. This is probably the time when most viewers enraptured by the ghostly fantasy of the first movie (and/or who hadn't read the books) began scratching their heads. Thankfully, illogicality finally begins to prevail, when it appears the virus is truly transmitted through that trusty old videotape.
The final act of the movie delves heavily into Sadako's motivations, something welcome to viewers desiring more than a surface understanding of events. But even then, those viewers enamored of the creaky, long-haired ghost would get a shock from her appearance in Spiral as a wanton succubus. Scenes of Sadako (Hinako Saeki) troubling her victims are still on the scary side, but also evoke early-90s erotic thrillers more than a little bit. The movie is still rather entertaining, and might be considered more interesting (at least intellectually) than Ring 2. However, since it veers away from cinematic canon, and is in fact presented here only as an extra accompanying Ring 2, we will recommend (for wont of keeping with our rating system) that viewers who want to check it out simply Rent It.
In Ring 0 we find shy Sadako (Yukie Nakama) mostly ignored by her young theater troupe colleagues. Though one boy, Hiroshi Toyama (Seichi Tanabe) finds her rightly beautiful, the rest are put off by her, especially when undue pressure seems to make light-bulbs in her presence explode, etc. Nonetheless, in drama Sadako seems able to draw from a deep well of emotion, (forgive me) so when she's called on to replace the lead in the play the kids are working very hard to mount, she seems poised for redemption. Unfortunately, things go sideways, and somehow the story ends with members of the dwindling troupe playing hide and seek in the desolate woods with the creepiest, creakiest long-haired ghost of the series.
While Ring 0 takes a while to get going, solid performances, some sympathy for Sadako, and a few nice slow-burn scares (accompanied by visual style even more potent than in the original film) make the movie a worthy capper to the series, which is why it's Highly Recommended. (Again, viewers who haven't slept under a rock for the last 20 years will know that the series never dies, as shown by the recent Sadako versus Kayako stunt movie.)
Ring 2 crawls out of the well in a regular old HD scan, so doesn't have quite the same revelatory effect of Ring's new scan, but still looks great in comparison to previous incarnations, with detail levels you would expect from a fairly dark, somber film. Grain is present but not overpowering, and details, especially in brighter scenes, come through well. Details do tend to fade a bit as the depth of field increases, and colors aren't what you would call naturalistic, but that last is certainly down to a stylistic choice, with the preferred palette being blue and gray. Overall, the picture presented here is quite acceptable for Blu-ray, and compression problems are not apparent.
Spiral, as the odd film out, or rather ‘less successful' sequel to Ring fittingly seems to come from a different cinematic world, with generally way more light than the first two movies, and even a bit of color, which is most notable during the autopsy scene. All the light means grain tends to be more friendly, and fine details on the whole acquit themselves nicely, while as per usual, mid and long range shots soften a bit. Though the film is more brightly lit, allowing for a greater gamut of color, there is a subtle cast of yellow over much of the film. This may be down to a stylistic choice, or due to the environments of the shoot - hospitals and offices - but it is something noticeable, which leaves a curious impression.
Ring 0: Birthday looks the most like a regular old HD movie, with for the most part natural colors and good details levels. There are some instances where details break down a fair amount, especially in later scenes where people are running around in shadowy woods, searching for (or being hunted by) Sadako, which in comparison to the rest of the movie, are fairly stark. However dimly lit interior scenes do fare much better, with only a few instances where shadow details suffer, while grain structure for the most part looks natural and film-like.
Ring 2 also comes in both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a 2.0 mix. The 5.1 mix really piles on the dimensional effects, especially in the climactic swimming pool scene, but also certainly where ambient noise (city scenes) can reinforce the sense of being paranoid while alone in a crowd. Dialog is again rendered clean, clear, and damage free, for a great overall presentation.
Spiral again bucks the (as yet to be established at the time of its filming) trend towards moody atmospherics in the audio realm. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track acquits itself nicely nonetheless, getting creepy when needed, but otherwise rendering the plentiful dialog clearly. When surround sound is required, it arrives with dynamism, from the more plentiful city scenes to aggressive dialog sequences.
Last up, Ring 0 comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that takes it easy on the effects, surround sound dynamics, and scary music, for the most part. Where things really ‘pop', briefly, are scenes with Sadako creeping around the forest, especially when her joints creak loudly and ominously. Theatrical cross-talk from the troupe does employ separate channels effectively, and dialog is otherwise clean, crisp, and damage free.
Ring extras include an excellent New Audio Commentary by film historian David Kalat, who takes you on a journey through the history of Japanese horror, and its tendrils in the Ring movies, and Three Video Essays/Interviews ranging in length from 21 to 27 minutes. The Ring Legacy contains multiple interviews with film geeks waxing rhapsodic about their memories of the movie and its legacy. A Vicious Circle finds author and critic Kat Ellinger examining director Hideo Nakata's career, while Circumnavigating Ring allows author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas time to bring viewers up to speed on the origins and evolution of the Ring series. Several Theatrical Trailers, and Sadako's Video (don't watch!) round out the extras for the first disc.
Ring 2 extras include the unofficial sequel to Ring, Spiral (AKA Rasen) as reviewed above. (An entire extra movie is always a nice extra, I say.) Also included are the usual Theatrical Trailers and The Psychology of Fear, a 25-minute interview with the Ring book series author Koji Suzuki.
Lastly, Ring 0 extras include another fantastic Audio Commentary, this time by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who gives a deep read of the movie's themes. There is a Theatrical Trailer, plus a 37-minute Video Essay by critic Jasper Sharp, called Spooks, Sighs, and Videotape taking us from the origins of the Japanese ‘long-haired ghost' through Japanese extreme horror cinema, and finally to the more shivery efforts like Ring and Juon: The Grudge. Also included are 21 minutes of Behind the Scenes Footage and 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes.