Mmm. I’m puzzled. That’s often what happens with unusual movies: since you haven’t seen anything quite like it, it’s hard to review it. I mean, I’ve seen tons of action movies, so when I see a new one, I can say OK, it’s better than that other one, but not as good as whatever. Yet a film like “Ringu” is in a class of its own. It’s a horror movie, but there’s no horror in it. So maybe it’s more of a psychological thriller… But there isn’t much psychological insight. There is tension… but it’s very, very slow; it’s Japanese. Are you still following me? Maybe I should summarize the plot to give you an idea. It starts off like a very offbeat take on “Scream”. Two teenage Japanese chicks are home alone, telling each other about a supposed cursed video that will cause your death exactly one week after you watched it and received a weird phone call. Are the girls joking, is this an urban legend? Yes… uh, no… Oh, the phone’s ringing!

So far, so good. Nothing exceptional, but an interesting start. Then there’s this reporter chick who’s investigating the story. She finds the video and, very stupidly, watches it. We see what’s on that mysterious tape, and these images will keep coming back hauntingly through the film. There’s a woman combing her hair in front of a mirror… Organic writing… Weird, low noise… A girl… Someone with a towel on his head.. A close up of an eye… A well… Pretty screwed up stuff. So the reporter is gonna die in a week, but she’s not too freaked. No, she calls her ex-husband, the film’s most memorable character. he’s very Japanese, all stoic, restrained and strict, to the point where his rude calm gets hilarious. For American audiences at least, as we’re not used to the Japanese’s very different reactions and attitudes towards various events. And so Mr. badass watches the video, and he’s like, OK, I’m dead in a week. And then the two spend the rest of the film trying to figure out the nonsense on this tape, and they kind of do: it has something to do with a volcano, an oracle, her evil daughter, a twister doctor… and a well.

Now you understand, right? Of course not, but it’s that kind of film. Watching it, I had mixed feelings. Sometimes, I was riveted by the oppressive calm and the slow, careful way director Hideo Nakada sets up his plot. The film is expertly crafted, and Nakada uses image and sound to create an effective mood of tension. But then I often started to wonder what the hell the film was trying to do. “Ringu” is extremely meager on, well, everything. Very little happens, and Nakada’s creepy set-ups most often don’t pay off. Like there’s this kid who’s always fascinating, but he’s ultimately pretty passive (from what I hear, it’s in the sequel that he finally takes center stage). And I’m sorry, but it’s not a few Boo! shots that will thrill me. Three quarter through the film, it got to the point where I was like screw this, it’s much ado about nothing. And then the movie cranks up its excitement level, and gets more and more gripping for the last 15 minutes, until the riveting, cleverly wicked final shot.

So what’s up with “Ringu”? Well, I dunno, really. It constantly flips from brilliant to okay to boring. Uneven, you said? Yeah. If nothing else, this movie introduces a promising, unusual kind of psychological horror. It’s worth checking out, but I don’t see why it became this huge cultural phenomenon in Japan and throughout Asia. Maybe it’s cause I’m a stupid North American.