My expectations, I have to say, were not high. One, it was not directed by Hideo Nakata. Two, it was a prequel. Three, Ring 2 had left a rather poor taste in the mouth and four, who gives a shit about Sadako when she isn’t dead? Nobody really cares about Freddy or Jason’s background, do they? Except that Ring 0 is not only much better than I thought it would be, but also, in a beautiful touch not a story about the birth of a monster but a story about the destruction of an innocent. The Sadako of 0 is not the vengeful monster of the next Ring films, but a shy young wannabe actress who is very much a victim of society. There is most certainly a touch of paranoia of The Crucible about the film, and a nod towards that other film about a girl with extraordinary powers, Carrie. Yet unlike Carrie, Ring 0 is not quite so honest about who is responsible for what and who deserves to get their just desserts. The film is less of a horror film and rather a biopic, a story of a girl in the 1950s and the disturbing effect of her unique abilities on the other members of the cast. Yukie Nakama fills the role of the deeply afraid Sadako, and does so extraordinarily well – there are very few moments where you lack sympathy for Sadako in the film, and her distress at the deaths being involuntarily inflicted by her powers seems extremely real. The disturbing tale starts with Sadako auditioning for a prestigious theatre company, and finds herself attracting the unwanted attention of the leering director, a vengeful woman whose husband was the man seen dropping dead in the flashbacks in the original ‘Ring’ and the tenderness of a lighting technician who develops a fatal love for the young woman. The film becomes ever more complex, the cast become suspicious of Sadako’s rise in favour and the mysterious deaths of those who upset her, although Sadako protests that she has nothing to do with these ‘accidents’. The dynamic is a fascinating one; Sadako’s protestations of innocence combined with the venomous paranoia of her co-stars lulls the viewer into a sense of false security so that, when the truth behind the ‘accidents’ finally comes out, there is something of a genuine twist. The look of the film is quite restricted, since unlike Ring which sprawls over Japan, Ring 0 stays almost completely in the theatre. Then again, there is no need for it to go anywhere else. The horror of Ring 0 lies in the poisonous whispering of the other cast members in the dressing room, the dark corridors of the building at night, and the eerily familiar sounding ‘abilities’ of Sadako. The only time it leaves the theatre is towards the end when the drama picks up a rapid pace; a supposedly dead Sadako is being dragged off into the woods near an awfully familiar well, and it is here that Sadako’s father reveals the truth behind the curse of Sadako. Somewhat ironically, Sadako is the last to die as most of the cast meet their end, including the deeply dislikeable witch-finder general character of the journalists’ wife (but is she supposed to be anything else?), but saddest of all is the death of the only man who would ever love her. The curse of the Ring destroys Sadako, and the final shot has to be one of the saddest in film; Sadako alone at the bottom of the well in the dark, her fate known to us and her chance at returning to her lost love impossible.
The somewhat confusing premise behind Sadako’s true nature (spoilers alert here, but the conceit is she is two people, one of whom is murderous and vengeful, the other is simply Sadako.) does require more than one viewing to understand, but it is fascinating and even somewhat unsettling to see them as separate entities but who are inextricably bound up with each other. The film is dark, inevitable and deeply, deeply sad but the saddest thing about it is the fact the Sadako in Ring 0 is not the evil spirit of the sequels/prequels. Seeing a shy and sweet Sadako contrasted with the cold-blooded dead murderess of Ring and Ring 2, underlines one thing more than anything else in this tragic fall-from-grace; the loss of innocence.