All entries for March 2006

March 10, 2006

RING 0 (15)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

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.


RING 2 (15)

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

Nakata followed up his immensely successful ‘Ring’ with this film two years later; and the film serves to show, if nothing else, just how marvellously inconsistent Nakata can be. For every flash of genius (Dark Water) there is a mild work of tosh (The Ring Two). Ring 2 proves that Nakata can take subject matter and produce something beautifully scary and well controlled, but can similarly produce something that suffers from an overabundance of ideas, sloppy pacing and extremely inconsistent story telling. Put it this way, Ring 2 is something of a head-fuck of a horror film. You will spend more of the film wondering what in gods name is going on than you will actually being frightened, which is a shame because the film does have some very scary moments – scenes set in the hospital where one of the only survivors of the video has to be kept behind a curtain, so she cannot see the television that torments her, were so powerful that they were lifted for the American remake. The narrative, as it stands, takes place shortly after the first film; Reiko has gone missing with her son, and Mai Takano, the girlfriend of Ryuji, is determined to find out what happened to her lover. Mercifully, the video plays little role in the film and therefore avoiding a retread of the first. Instead, we get some rather jumbled scenes of exposition, and some unsettling scenes of psychic imprinting, as well as some child acting that is so hilarious at times you wonder what happened to the creepily calm and collected little boy who so dominated the original film at times; I refer specifically to a scene where he ‘knocks back’ some hospital guards with a psychic blast that is as bloody ridiculous as it sounds. Some random character death also happens, and I say random because it can take up to five minutes before you realise a character is dead. Not always a problem in films, but in Ring 2 it just leaves you reaching for the paracetomol. The last twenty minutes has to be the most surreal bookend to any horror film ever; the artistic flourishes are quite extraordinary, but any scene where a dead character from the first film emerges in perfect health at the bottom of a well to demand of his son ‘Give me your fear! Give me your fear!’ leave you either laughing your backside off or leave you as clueless as the lead apparently is. You may have noticed the plot summary is extremely tangled, but it’s the best summary I can manage, because the plot really is that impenetrable. Its ending is fascinating (Sadako climbing up the inside of the well, oh my god that is eerie) and leaves us with a troubling note of doubt, but the preceding hour and forty minutes makes you feel like the ending was a mercy rather than an accomplishment.

Muddled pulp fiction, Ring 2 is a good experiment but an ultimately unsuccessful one, with too much irregularity to make it satisfying or scary viewing.


RING (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Like The Shining, Carrie and The Exorcist before it, Ring has entered the pantheon of truly great horror movies simply by executing a scene so accomplished and powerful that the rest of the film feels like a wonderful and terrifying prelude. The scene is the now legendary TV-set scene that left us forever terrified of girls with long black hair, but we should not forget that the rest of the film is a masterfully constructed piece of suspense horror that is based less around making us jump out of our seats and rather on sucking us into a terrifying and macabre mystery that keeps us hooked all the way through. It is easy to wax lyrical about Hideo Nakata’s 1998 classic, but what exactly is it that made the film such a classic? This film has spawned a prequel, a sequel, a Korean and American remake, a sequel to the aforementioned American remake, a short TV series…and this is not counting Spiral, the official literary sequel to the Ring. Koji Suzuki, the author, cannot have possibly imagined the cultural impact of his effective chiller. The fact is that the film beautifully fillets the slightly over-complicated ‘virus’ theory of the book and instead retains the supernatural elements that are wisely left unexplained; the film gets a beautiful sense of mystery and terror that unfolds, managing to keep the film scary even during long scenes of exposition. The cinematography of the film is also quite striking, a bleak and almost colourless tone that Gore Verbinski borrowed almost wholesale for his remake of The Ring (not that this is a bad thing). It is refreshing to see a world that isn’t presented in rather over-romantic or feudal tones, as in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and The Last Samurai. The film is expertly controlled by Nakata, whose solid and fast-paced direction gives the film an energy that it could have so easily lacked. Nakata’s world is almost disturbingly normal; what we see is a modern Japan with the same concerns and fears that we have. Intrusive press officials, motel owners, teenagers…it has a Japanese lilt to it, but if it were not for the distinctive architecture we could almost be anywhere in the world. In this world, we see Reiko Asakawa, a single mother and journalist who becomes fascinated with a folk-lore story about a videotape that is supposedly cursed, and kills whoever watches it within the week. Once she locates the tape at the motel where all of the dead teenagers stayed for a holiday, the film picks up its pace.

She has a week, and we know it. There is simply no room for the possibility of it being ‘wrong’; the film is kept powerful and lean because there are no scenes where shrieking supporting cast members scream ‘I don’t believe it!’ as basically the entire cast of Final Destination does. Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama, are very much aware they are living on borrowed time – because they believe it with such conviction, we believe it too. Every piece of evidence and exposition is true because they believe it, and there is no falsity in the film. There is no need for doubt in the film. This isn’t a murder mystery with red herrings and dud clues; it’s a mightily effective horror machine. The videotape leads our desperate heroes – both surprisingly sympathetic – to the disturbing past of a psychic woman and her daughter, Sadako whose psychic power led her to an unimaginably macabre fate. The flashback sequences, although explained in a slightly fudged way by having Reiko experience a bizarre psychic ‘flash of memory’, are in stark black and white and are so chilling that often these scenes are more effective than those set in the present day.

Sadako’s fate, an ugly death at the bottom of a well, serves as the penultimate ending; it could be the end, but Nakata is not prepared to let us off so easily. It is perhaps somewhat amusing that Nakata knows that the simple reburial of a troubled soul’s remains will not suddenly stop everything; revenge, as the film shows, knows no bounds. This sets us up for the simply nerve-jangling scene in which Ryuji watches in disbelief as…gah, no, I can’t say it. You have to watch. The final scene leaves us with a satisfying note of doubt; Reiko has saved her life, but she still has to save her son. And that means a horrible sacrifice in his name.

So, what is the ring? The simplified explanation in the remake is that the ‘ring’ is the last thing you see before you die, but the Japanese explanation is far more chilling; the only way to save yourself is put another in jeopardy, and they have to do exactly the same thing to someone else. It is an eternal loop; a ‘ring’ that keeps on growing. Perhaps it is this, combined with some iconic moments and the scariest child in film history that has made Ring what it is. Perhaps it is simply that the film never lets us feel safe; as I have already stated, revenge knows no bounds. Not even death can hold it.


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