A memorable penultimate moment does not a great movie make!
Screenplay By: Hiroshi Takhashi
Directed By: Hideo Nakata
I am a huge fan of horror movies that build up to their big scares, reveals, and deaths. However, I also believe that a film needs to pay off its build in some way. I get an off feeling when I’m watching a horror movie that creates lots of atmosphere and is clearly building towards a big payoff but doesn’t deliver. I say all this while acknowledging that Ringu’s penultimate scene is memorable and does offer a payoff. Why then, am I saying that Ringu on the whole is a movie that doesn’t deliver in the payoff department?
Ringu is a movie with very large issues. It works as a horror movie, and it works as a cautiously structured Japanese film. Hideo Nakada’s film uses a traditional Japanese film structure, if there is such a thing. Watching Ringu I could pick out the way the film exists within a restrained and laid back structure that is common to popular Japanese filmmaking. At the same time I could see the ways in which Nakada-san was attempting to move away from the traditional Japanese film structure and do something a little different. His camera lingers a little longer, his characters react a little more suddenly, and the core of his story is a tad more ethereal than in the popular Japanese cinema I have been exposed to thus far.
The biggest game changer that Nakada-san infuses into Ringu is atmosphere and an overbearing sense of dread. This is the biggest boon to the film as well as the ultimate downfall of this staple of J-Horror. The atmosphere of Ringu is so thick that the cliche of being able to cut it with a knife does apply. The problem is that there is never any release. Even the powerful penultimate scene happens and then is quickly moved away from. There needs to be some sort of catharsis or release to the atmosphere and dread that builds and builds during Ringu. That moment never comes and when the movie ends it’s just over, and feels unfulfilling in its resolution.
The best example to use in comparison to Ringu is Ti West’s The House Of The Devil. That film thrives on its suspense, atmosphere, and tension. The key difference is that Mr. West’s film has many small moments that offer a break from the build of the suspense and tension. He quickly builds the atmosphere and tension back up, but the breaks exist so that we know the mood of the film is not inert. The House Of The Devil also offers a resolution, and while it may not be satisfying to all it is at the very least a resolution. Ringu is the same exact film as The House Of The Devil in terms of structure and intent, but it is woefully lacking in the execution department when compared to Mr. West’s master work.
I did love the tension and atmosphere building that takes place during Ringu. But, I wanted something more from the film, something that stopped the film from being so inert. That something could have come in the penultimate scene, but the way that Nakada-san handled that moment and so briskly moved on from it left me wanting more from said moment. Ringu is a well made film with the best of intentions, but its execution left me wishing for much, much more.