Here’s a scary Hallowe’en movie treat for you; sure it’s been done before, but not by me!
I had the opportunity this past week to watch both Ringu and The Ring, two film versions of the novel by Koji Suzuki. I should probably state up front that I myself have an extremely low tolerance for terror, and made judicious use of the pause and frame advance buttons on my remote control while watching the films. I should also point out that this comparison will definitely spoil at least some of the fun if you haven’t seen at least one of them. So why not do that, then come back and read the rest?
Okay, so you’ve either watched one of the films, or you’re not willing to suffer in terror through either, right? Just making sure… As I wrote before, spoilers follow — you’ve been warned!
Here then, are my observations of the two films, in more or less chronological order:
Faces of the victims in The Ring are all bent out of shape — literally! — with liberal amounts of prosthetic effects, while their unlucky counterparts in Ringu have their faces frozen in abject terror, plenty scary for me.
The cursed video in Ringu is short and creepy; The Ring‘s video is bursting with so much symbolism that it really does look like a bad student film. Yes, I know that all the images are justified as the story behind it is uncovered, but about half of them — like the centipede, for example — were completely unnecessary.
I also liked how, in the Japanese version, after the heroine turns off the television she sees a reflection in the screen of Sakada standing behind her, which I’ll bet M. Night Shamalayan ripped off for Signs. The closest we get to that in the American film is a 3D blob of transparent goo flitting across the schoolgirl’s downstairs TV screen. Ooh, scary!
As a testament to The Ring, only a day after watching it I can’t remember what any of the music sounded like, whereas the ominous slowed-down church bells that counted down the seven days in Ringu still give me the creeps. I thought that their use after the false ending at the well, when the heroine is standing alone on the balcony, was particularly brilliant!
In Ringu the heroine’s husband has ESP; in The Ring it’s the kid who has a sixth sense. Great, another Haley Joel Osment — that’s all we need!
Of particular interest to me was that the American ex-husband had to be convinced of the heroine’s fears, after initially dismissing them, while the Japanese ex took his former mate’s word right off the bat. ESP, or cultural difference?
Sadako vs. Samara
The American script doctors took great lengths to flesh out the character of Samara. As a result, we see her childhood room, her video archives from the mental institution… The heroine even sees her at the bottom of the well, just in case anyone in the audience forgot who the movie was about.
In contrast, Ringu‘s Sadako is stumbled upon pretty late in the film, as that film’s heroine joins her ex-husband in an ESP epiphany. The back story of Sadako is more vague, but deliberately so, I think — at least the filmmakers didn’t add an extra half-hour to the running time trying to explain it!
After Ringu the well scene in The Ring made me laugh out loud… So the heroine gets pushed into the well by a 70’s-vintage television set?!
Okay, so I’m about to talk about the scariest scene in the film — this is seriously your last chance to stop reading and go out and see it instead!
The climactic scene in both movies shows the audience how Sadako/Samara makes good on her seventh-day death threat. In Ringu, the effect of Sadako coming out of the television set is just a bit cheap, compared to the flawless visual effects of Hollywood’s Samara. But in The Ring, Samara is still plagued by a poor TV signal as she waltzes across the ex-husband’s studio floor, a dumb effect that for me took her out of the reality of the scene. And while, Ringu shows only Sadako’s eye, for me it’s as lasting an image as the demonic Samara’s full face.
By now, you’re probably getting the idea that I fancied Ringu substantially more than The Ring, and you’re right. Maybe this will convince you too: What saves both heroines from the video’s curse is that they have made a copy of it and made someone else watch. Both heroines lift the curse from their kids by making them do the same. In the Japanese film the little boy Koichi is told that the cycle of viewing and copying the video must be spread far and wide, until everyone everywhere has seen it. I’m not entirely sure what the message is here — at first I thought the filmmakers were encouraging piracy, but it’s probably more along the lines of “knowledge is power”, or “information wants to be free”.
At any rate, it’s certainly more warm and fuzzy than what we get in The Ring; in that movie the Haley Joel Osment wannabe asks his mom what’ll happen to the person he gives his copy of the cursed video to, and gets silence for an answer. So the message here is “we’ll take care of own, screw y’all”… Nice!
Ringu, by a country mile… At least until I get my hands on the Korean version!