Overrated Movies #1: Ring

12th September 2004

Just because it's Japanese, doesn't mean it's scary. Repeat this mantra to yourself over and over again for the 90 or so minutes you're watching Hideo Nakata's 'psychological horror' and you'll start to realise that behind all the fawning press quotes and lofty claims of a 'new breed of terror' (from people like professional spod Mark Kermode) lies a very average movie that never lives up to its potential. Despite what every spectacle-wearing film nerd will no doubt tell you, it's slow, it's boring as hell and it's not scary in the slightest. And besides, when the US remake puts the original to shame, you know it could never have been that good in the first place.

What really grates is the way that a movie such as Ring is elevated into the upper echelons of horror history by people who think that by ordering Tartan DVDs from the internet and calling the directors by their original Japanese names, they're suddenly global film experts. Newsflash, you plaid wearing bell-ends - just because a movie is made in another country, doesn't mean it can't suck just as hard as one made in Hollywood. What's Ring's problem? It's full of plot-holes and amateurish bollocks, for a start. I warn you, there will be spoilers ahead, although by my definition, something actually has to be good before you can spoil it (for example, I wouldn't say I've spoiled my toilet by taking a crap in it). Oh, and for the record, it's called Ring, not Ringu. You speak English, not Japanese, and your painfully pedestrian shoulder tattoo doesn't say 'courage and valour', it says 'kung pow chicken'. You twat.

The premise is thus: there's this videotape, see, and when you watch it, you see lots of really freaky images, and all these really freaky sound effects. Ignore the fact it looks like it was made by a Cronenberg-lite film student. When you've finished watching it, you get a phone call and a voice says you're going to die in seven days. Yeah? Ever think about not watching the video in the first place? Huh? How about not answering the phone when it rings? Seems to me like that would solve the whole 'watch the video then die' conundrum. I could understand if you had no idea what was on the tape and shoved it in your VCR out of curiosity, but the main character in Ring is a female investigative reporter, who incidentally, is reporting on the deaths of some kids who apparently watched a mysterious video that caused them to...well, die. Upon finding said video, our intrepid reporter thinks nothing of playing it immediately, and even picks up the phone directly afterwards, despite knowing what happens when you do so. Hasn't this bitch read the back of the box? You could argue that the end of the movie kind of explains why the video doesn't just end up languishing at the arse-end of the local Blockbuster (surrounded by Steve Guttenberg movies), but the fact remains that the plot is wafer-thin and to build an entire film around a fairly illogical premise without fleshing it out is just asking for trouble. It's just a really shitty plot device - the equivalent of a computer virus that only idiots activate by clicking on suspicious looking attachments and then start flapping their bingo wings in anger because they get infected with every trojan on the web.

We barely have time to get introduced to any of the main characters, despite the slow and stodgy pacing of the film (I swear to God, it's the longest hour and a half of my life since England met France in the last World Cup). The protagonist is Reiko Asakawa, a reporter (for which publication we're never told) who picks up on the case of the killer video after a young girl is killed by godonlyknowswhat. She also has a young child, which set the first alarm bell ringing - small children shouldn't even be allowed in cinemas, let alone be allowed to act in movies. For a supposed heroine, she really is a shit parent - as a single working mother, she thinks nothing of leaving her kid home on his own night after night, and we're supposed to care about this hack? I don't buy it, therefore I don't care if she bites it, therefore the film fails at hurdle one. And what's the first thing our dowdily-dressed heroine does after watching the tape? Why, she phones her ex-husband Ryuji and makes him watch it too. What a spiteful whore! Nakata never bothers to fill in the blanks on the relationship - why the pair broke up, or even why they bothered to get it together in the first place - but cursing your ex with a killer death video is surely a few rungs higher up the spite ladder than smashing the headlights of his BMW. Wait until you get to the bit where her child gets cursed too, because the stupid bitch left the video (that's the super 100% death guaranteed video) lying by the TV. Seven days just can't come quick enough.

The whole story revolves around our 'heroine' and her ex-hubby trying to track down the origins of the tape and attempting to break the curse (this dude is seriously under the thumb; cursed by his nagging wife and he still has to drive her everywhere). All well and good - this is surely an excuse for some nail-biting investigative journalism, no? After all, racing against time to save your own life, as well as that of your son must translate into a pretty tense movie, right? Someone forgot to tell the director and actors this, who all look like they're quite content in letting death catch up with them - there's no excitement, no atmosphere and a scant amount of acting talent . Instead, what we're offered is a series of hokey flashbacks, bizarre moments that make no sense in the context of the story (Blurry photos! Random legs!) and characters suddenly revealing they have PSYCHIC POWERS FOR NO APPARENT REASON. At least the Verbinski remake had the decency to paper over the cracks with something approaching entertainment, even if the horse diving off the boat was unintentionally hilarious. Seriously, it has a horse going apeshit and jumping off a ferry - how much more of a reason do you want to watch the remake instead? In fact, fuck the remake as well; they should just make Titanic with horses. But I'm getting off topic.

Eventually it's decided that the only way to possibly end the video's curse is to find the body of the girl in the video, a young girl named Sadako who's supposedly the link between all the unintelligible horseshit that's gone on before. Why the location of this corpse is the key to the mystery is a secret we're never let in on. Obviously this corpse must be found in a suitably frightening place, so lets flick through The Big Book Of Horror Movie Cliches to the chapter entitled 'Scary Locations', shall we? High school gym... graveyard... deserted ghost town... ah, here we are - down a well! Lo and behold, the body is found, and just as we all suspected, hugging the skeleton breaks the curse! Hooray! Why did we just waste five hours emptying water from the well that was only waist-height anyway? Who cares, the curse is lifted, and this is definitely the end of the movie. (A side note: finding terrifying things down a well is no big surprise, you'll find worse shit than an old lady's hair in most wells you get dropped into.) There's never an explanation of how the video actually came to exist, or what significance (if any) it has. Like I said - a shitty plot device.

Ring is a movie that thinks it's cleverer than it actually is, or to be more accurate, is thought to be cleverer than it actually is. Film students and AJ fanatics (Anything Japanese) will point to its TV-related imagery, and wax lyrical on how the director is making subtle social comments, but there's nothing under the surface at all - if Nakata really was trying to tell us that TV is killing us, he didn't have to be quite so literal. Also, using urban myths to tell stories is nothing new, and is nothing to get excited about. Let me tell you about another movie that centred around urban myths and a mysterious, other-worldly bogeyman. It was called Candyman, and it FUCKING ROCKED. Tony Todd could stomp all sorts of little girl ass, AND he could fire bees from his mouth whenever he felt like it.

To its credit, Ring does have a rather cool set-piece as its coup de grace, which I'm about to ruin for you - Sadako crawls out of the TV and frightens the ex-husband to death (again, something that could have been avoided by him getting his shit together and turning the TV off). Why did I just spoil the one good bit in this otherwise desolate cinematic experience? Because it's not worth spending over an hour of your life getting to see it, that's why. As payoffs go, it's like wading through a mile of Britney Spears' shit just to get a whiff of her arsehole. How these supposed horror aficionados can put Ring on a pedestal when quality flicks like Takashi Miike's Audition slip into relative obscurity I'll never understand, but hopefully you'll heed this warning and stay away - watching Ring may not kill you in a week, but it'll certainly waste an hour and a half of your time. Maybe they need to greenlight another remake, for today's younger, tech-savvy audience. You can imagine the pitch: "There's this DVD, right, and after you watch it, you get a text message..."

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