“The Ring Virus” – A.J. Hakari

With all of the Ringu ripoffs emerging not only from Japan but other Asian countries after the modern-day horror legend hit paydirt in 1998, you might wonder why some filmmakers didn’t just flat-out remake the movie sooner. Well, the year after, writer/director Kim Dong-bin did just that, and the result was The Ring Virus. This Korean take on the Ringu tale makes a few alterations, some of which are helpful and some of which seem almost arbitrary, but despite an unavoidable streak of predictability (read: if you’ve seen The Ring, you know what happens), The Ring Virus remains faithful to its source material, especially in coming across more as a mystery with tinges of horror instead of an out-and-out frightfest.

 

Sun-joo (Shin Eun-gyeong) is a journalist whose niece has recently died under the most puzzling of circumstances. Having dropped dead after suffering an intense shock is strange enough, but even more bizarre is that Sun-joo learns that three other people her niece had hung out with passed away the exact same way, and all at precisely the same moment. Being a creature of logic, Sun-joo believes that a strange new virus is the cause for their deaths, but a visit to supposed crackpot Dr. Choi (Joeng Jin-yeong) opens the door to another possibility: that a supernatural force did in the kids. Our heroine scoffs at the idea, but after stumbling upon a videotape connected to the deceased young ‘uns, viewing its random and unsettling images, and receiving a cryptic phone call, she eventually realizes that not only is it the truth, but that watching the tape has stricken her with a curse that gives her one week to get to the bottom of the mystery behind it before she dies next.

 

The first thing you’ll notice about The Ring Virus is that aside from a couple of key moments throughout the film, it’s not all that dead-set on coming across as a traditional, “OOGAH-BOOGAH!”-style horror movie. The filmmakers want to freak you out, for sure, but the way they go about it is more a question of atmosphere than of how many jump scares and eardrum-shattering orchestra cues they can crank out in two hours’ time. The Ring Virus has a sort of low-budget, not-entirely-polished look to it that fits the story quite well, especially when it comes to dealing with what’s on the videotape itself (which looks a lot like David Lynch’s home movies). Dong-bin hits mostly the right notes in generating an aura of dread and despair, although there are some moments when the flick finds itself lacking a true sense of urgency; for as quickly as she accepts the idea of her potential fate, Sun-joo certainly seems to take her sweet time putting together the pieces to the puzzle that might save her life

 

Plotting is the area in which The Ring Virus most feels like a mixed bag. As I mentined before, once you’ve seen either Japan’s Ringu or America’s The Ring, you know straightaway the turn of events that await you here. True, for someone who’s seen neither version, The Ring Virus has just as much potential as both of them to work its freaky magic upon the uninitiated. Those of us who have seen either or both, however, aren’t so lucky, as this journey along the same supernatural path offers few new detours. Instead of the estranged husband accompanying her during her investigation, Eun-gyeong’s journalist is teamed up with a cranky doctor, an alteration that doesn’t really amount to much, at least not in comparison to the revised explanation behind the force inhabiting the tape and how its cycle of vengeance began (a drastic and intriguing alternative to what you might have seen before). The mystery may still be awfully familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its more worthwhile moments, including a solid performance from Eun-gyeong and a climax that’s still creepy no matter how many times it’s replayed or remade.

 

Though it’s an imperfect film no matter which way you look at it, it’s best to catch The Ring Virus early on before you have the chance to dive further into the realm of Asian horror. The countless imitators just might dilute your viewing experience, so it’d be wise to pencil in a viewing of a flawed but engaging enough picture like The Ring Virus before the effect is even more ruined for you.

 

Rating: ★★½☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

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