I remember so vividly where I was the very first time that I saw Ring. I was still in training at my job and living in a tiny studio flat just off Marble Arch. There was no Netflix then. Instead the cutting edge tech for film fans like myself was renting films by post where a subscription to LoveFilm (now Amazon Prime) would give me 3 whole films a week to watch. It was before Ring became a phenomenon, before anyone knew who Sadako was, before J horror became mainstream. I settled down naively to watch this film I’d read about in a film forum and 90 minutes later was absolutely terrified out of my wits.
I watch a lot of horror and my biggest lament is that so few films these days are capable of truly scaring you. But Ring?, well it grabs you from the first frame and never lets go. There’s this true sense of encroaching dread from the very first scene which builds and builds until that single horrifying sequence when Sadako makes herself known in all her terrifying wrath. It’s not a film I’ve revisited very often – too hard on the nerves. I’ve watched the US remakes featuring my namesake Naomi Watts several times and they’re perfectly fine, fun films, a little heavy on the jump scares and fatally undercut by ill advised CGI in the money shots but they’re like the Disney version of Ring. Watching them is like going on Haunted Mansion, you know you’re going to have a good time and that it’s only going to be Scooby Doo level ghost train scary. Over the years the law of diminishing returns has seen the Ring franchise struggle to maintain a tenth of the haunting power possessed by the original. The recent Sadako vs Kayako (while intentionally amusing in parts) actually made me a little sad to see how far the franchise has fallen.
Thankfully the wonders at Arrow Video are gearing up to allow a new generation to appreciate the wonders of Ring. They have produced a brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative (approved by director of photography Junichiro Hayashi) and are bringing it back to cinemas from 1st March for its 20th Anniversary. Not only that but they are also releasing a limited edition blu-ray collection of The Ring trilogy with many additional extras. I was lucky enough to see a screening of the new restoration and was interested to see if it would still hold the same power.
For the uninitiated Ring (directed by Hideo Nakata who also directed horror classic Dark Water) focuses on Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) an investigative reporter whose niece dies in unusual circumstances. The culprit seems to be a cursed video tape, once you watch it you have 7 days left to live. With the clock ticking down on her life Reiko must work out how to stop the curse or lose everything.
The restoration is beautiful, the film looks crisp and clear and was a delight to watch. I was thrilled to see that the film had lost none of its power. The cursed tape itself is still a horrifying thing to watch. In truth image wise it’s not that different to what you might see in a modern art exhibition but the images coupled with the eerie, discordant soundtrack when ever it plays just grate on your every exposed nerve. You just want it to stop playing as soon as humanly possible. I had forgotten how mystical the third act is (Reiko’s ex partner has psychic powers of his own, something completely dropped for the American re-makes). I was also surprised at how little Sadako features. She is very much kept in reserve but when she appears? God help us all! Ring continues to be a masterclass in tension and is one of the most unsettling horror films made in recent times. Hopefully the restoration will bring it a legion of new fans.
You can find times for The Ring’s 20th Anniversary screenings at the website http://ringfilm.co.uk/
Follow Naomi on Twitter @geekgoddesses1