29. Wild Card: Ring by Koji Suzuki
List Progress: 17/30
It can be tough engaging with pieces of media that you know through cultural osmosis. I was twelve when the 2002 English-language movie The Ring came out, and I was awash in references, jokes and memes about cursed video tapes, pale girls with long hair crawling out of televisions, and phone calls threatening that the victim will die in one week. I have never seen the film, but I know the infamous twist at the end, which was bound to color how I approached the original 1991 Japanese novel, Ring by Koji Suzuki. I would have loved to approach this story and premise fresh, but even without a blank slate, I had a lot of fun with this novel full of creeping dread.
So right off the bat, the film The Ring is not a completely direct adaptation of the novel Ring. The novel was first adapted into a 1998 Japanese film which changed a lot of the source material, and the American film follows the first movie far more closely than the novel. This is surprising because there are a lot fewer explicit horror “moments” in the book, instead focusing on a methodical search for truth against the terror of a ticking clock. The book follows Kazuyuki Asakawa, a male reporter (changed to a woman in both films) whose niece mysteriously dies of a heart attack at the exact same time as three of her friends, despite all being in different locations. Asakawa investigates and finds that they were at a cabin together one week prior, and at the cabin he finds the key to it all: a cursed video tape that, when watched, causes its victims to die in exactly one week unless they can break its charm. The solution to the riddle has been erased from the tape, so Asakawa and his friend Ryuji have to start from scratch, learning everything they can about the images on the tape, the cabin where it was found, and the person or force who could have made this curse.
In the “nothing is scarier” tradition of horror, there are no jump scares or screaming monsters; the girl crawling from the television is an invention of the films. The real horror comes from Asakawa’s desperation and how he spends a week unspooling as he fears the end is near. There is almost more of a sci-fi bent to the search, with scientific and philosophical themes tied into the origin of the tape, which was different from what I was expecting and fascinating along the way.
This isn’t a perfect book; I was not always a fan of how the narrative used sexual violence. And the reveal of a character’s sexual identity felt like it was treading into schlock territory, though not terrible by the standards of the nineties. But criticisms aside, this was a solid, haunting book that feels like a distinct creature from the movies, which feel like they made changes necessary for the transition to a visual medium. There are two sequels, Spiral and Loop, which apparently dive further into the science fiction elements of the tape’s spread through the world, and I am intrigued to give them a try.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.