New take on the video nasty

Believe the hype - The Ring is something to scream about, says Kevin Jackson
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The Independent Culture

Few things enhance the pleasure of a spooky movie more delightfully than watching it with people who become so scared that they lose all normal dignity. My Top 10 of such exquisite shocks is still headed by the first time I saw The Shining, and a woman two or three rows behind me let out a scream that would fill your average banshee with professional envy; but that little frisson is now quite strongly rivalled by the Edinburgh screening of The Ring, when someone sitting off to my right jolted back so violently from the "BOO!" moment on screen that our entire row was rocked.

Few things enhance the pleasure of a spooky movie more delightfully than watching it with people who become so scared that they lose all normal dignity. My Top 10 of such exquisite shocks is still headed by the first time I saw The Shining, and a woman two or three rows behind me let out a scream that would fill your average banshee with professional envy; but that little frisson is now quite strongly rivalled by the Edinburgh screening of The Ring, when someone sitting off to my right jolted back so violently from the "BOO!" moment on screen that our entire row was rocked.

The fright was all the more satisfying because it showed that the advance hype about Ring - murmurs about it being "This year's Blair Witch..." - hadn't been altogether unjustified. Ring, which was first released in Japan two years ago, has been wildly successful throughout East Asia. A major box-office hit in its own right, it has also spawned a sequel (imaginatively titled Ring 2), a prequel (confusingly entitled Ring 0), a spin-off television series, a Korean imitation and Beelzebub knows what else.

It's not hard to see why it's so popular. Directed by the youngish Hideo Nakata from a book by the novelist Koji Suzuki, Ring pushes the genre buttons with aplomb. Plot-wise, it's nothing very inventive, especially if you've seen the likes of Candyman. As in that film, Ring begins with an intrepid and suitably rationalist young woman setting out to investigate an urban myth: schoolchildren are gossiping about a weird video which carries a curse: you watch it, then the phone rings and a woman's voice tells you that you will be dead in a week. Bah, hogwash, says our heroine, watches the damned thing anyway and then has just seven days to save herself from being dragged screaming off to hell.

Perfectly acceptable stuff, as is the plot-twist with which it ends: skip your eyes over the upcoming brackets if you haven't already heard what it is. (Suffice to say, MR James came up with it a long time back in his story "Casting the Runes".) One of the things that make Ring stand out from the herd, though, is the haunting and extravagant video imagery that Nakata sprinkles over the otherwise fairly bland surface of his film - cryptic shots of mangled text, blighted landscapes and a female demon called Sadako who is the ghost in the video machine.

I was a little surprised at quite how enjoyable Ring was, since I'd made the mistake of seeing Ring 0 first. For those who haven't been briefed about the mythology, Ring 0 (directed by another hand: Norio Tsuruta) doesn't make a lick of sense, and for those who have been briefed it's still a sorry, rambling mess, not helped one tiny bit by being set mainly in a theatre. "It's Carrie meets All About Eve," I heard a witty colleague snarl in the darkness; leaving me, like Oscar, wishing that I'd said that.

'The Ring' is showing at the ICA for five weeks from today

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