Welcome to Horror Movie Month here at Late to the Theater! Once a year we focus on one of our absolute favorite things, horror movies! For the entire month of October we’ll review at least two movies a week, some old, some new, and usually fitting into a weekly theme. So pop the corn, pour yourself a glass of whatever, and come along for the ride! I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers!
This week is Old-Fashioned Tech Horror Week, where we take a look at some classic films that jumpstarted the tech horror boom, as well as the trend of remaking Japanese horror movies for an American audience – Yes, I’m talking about that hair-raising* classic Ringu (1998) and its spiritual sister, PULSE (2001). So defrag your hard drive, check my sound cloud (bruh!) and run a McAfee scan on that possibly haunted PDF your shady cousin just sent you, because you can’t spell ‘execution’ without .exe*!
If you’re familiar with the American version (and the memes it has spawned) then you know the story – you watch a cursed videotape and then have seven days to solve the mystery before a long-haired girl crawls out of a TV and does a herky-jerky murder dance at you. Copying the tape and showing it to someone else breaks the curse. Since I was still getting chain letters from elderly relatives in the early 2000s, the idea of being killed by not passing on some nonsense was legit terrifying.
Like most people in the States, I saw the American version first. It was refreshingly intelligent, Naomi Watts was great, the kid was weird, and the imagery perfectly evocative of the creepy-cute nostalgia trend – specifically the thermographic images of rocking horses with skulls, and skeletal trees on fire. It also scared the holy living pants off me – to the point where I was afraid to be home alone and avoided standing with my back to television screens for a month. It was such an effective movie that I wanted more of it, so my then-boyfriend tracked down the original film. It went as expected.
Ringu was one of the first actual Japanese movies I watched, and it opened up a whole new world (Miike Takashi’s work! I am scarred forever!). From there I branched into Korean horror (Grudge! Into the Mirror! Arang! Tale of Two Sisters! So many others!) Hong Kong (The Eye!) There were also horror video games (Silent Hill! Fatal Frame! Rule of Rose! Siren!). Although there have been so many others, Ringu really started a brand new fascination. I’ve seen the whole series, although I remember the subsequent films being of varying quality.
I haven’t rewatched Ringu in probably ten years, and it has aged only so-so. Although the horror beats were not the most effective, the overall experience was quite good, and for an odd reason: as mentioned, this week’s horror theme is tech, and the tech of Ringu is limited to the time in which it takes place – 1998 Japan. Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is a reporter doing a story on an urban legend when she realizes the death of her niece is related.
During her investigation of the mystery, Asakawa plumbs the resources available to her: she checks old news articles from the newsroom where she works, receives faxes, makes phone calls, and even goes to the Izu peninsula. “Oh my God! I remember news articles and newsrooms and faxes!” I must have said thirty times during the rewatch. Half the dramatic tension from the movie was realizing how much Asakawa might have gotten done with Google. Hell, posting the video on Youtube would have fixed everything, since Sadako’s only desire was to be heard.
Asakawa also enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada). This was another interesting reminder of the past – when Ryuji first shows up, he expresses surprise at the age of his son Yoichi. “Is he in elementary school already?” he asks, in this age where staying friends with your ex on Facebook was not a thing, and stalking them a much more involved and time-consuming pursuit. His emotional disconnect stuck out as well as his embarrassment when Asakawa comes to his house to watch the tape and his new piece, a student of his, comes home. She’s a bit pouty to find him with his ex-wife, and his brusque dismissal of her is cold. This doesn’t prevent Asakawa from looking to him for answers, despite the fact that he literally knows as much as she does about the whole thing.
Ryuji dies and fulfills the prophetic ‘man pointing with napkin on head’ part of the video. Asakawa makes the terrible realization that the video must be spread to others in order to break the curse, and does so in order to save her son.
The mythos of the video always troubled me. Couldn’t you just tell someone, ‘here’s this video, watch it, and make someone else watch it’? Isn’t the ring symbolism a bit inaccurate, since the message must be a line of dots, from person to person and onward? Or perhaps the ‘ring’ metaphor references the fact that each ‘victim’ or ‘recipient’ of the message must experience it as Sadako did, in its entirety, without compression. Who knows!
Anyway, thanks for joining us for this week’s entry, Ringu. Please join us tomorrow for a non-horror related entry on a local gaming store, Gamers, Inc., and then again on Thursday for musings on Pulse!
*PUNS!!! PUUUUUNS!!!! You waited a whole year for my dumb puns, admit it!