Who's ready to lose a good night’s sleep?
Today we’ll be pitting The Ring vs. The Grudge. For this showdown, these two often-compared horror franchises will be going head to head. They share so much in common that, in 2016, the two franchises crossed over for film "Sadako vs. Kayako." Without further ado, come along as we evaluate a wide range of categories to determine which of these supernatural horror properties reigns supreme. If you're looking for the video version of this showdown, click here to see which franchise wins. Otherwise, scroll down to find out which urban legend does a better job of keeping you up at night.
Round 1: The Japanese Originals
Though some western cinemagoers might not know it, but both 2002’s "The Ring" and 2004's "The Grudge" are remakes of hit Japanese horror films. Also known as "Ringu," the 1998 film "Ring" was released to widespread critical acclaim, becoming not only an instant classic of Japanese supernatural horror but also a must-watch for horror enthusiasts around the world. Not only does it deliver a number of now iconic scares, but it was further elevated by its complex themes - including preoccupations about the role of technology in modern society and its relationship with tradition and the past.
The film proved so influential that it even caused western filmmakers to reconsider their approach to the genre and helped give rise to the term "J-Horror." "The Grudge" as it's best known in the west, is an adaptation of a long-running Japanese horror series called "Ju-On." Bucking the trend of American adaptations however, the 2004 film "The Grudge" is actually a remake of the third film in the franchise, 2002’s "Ju-On: The Grudge." This theatrically released film was preceded by two direct-to-video movies, "Ju-On: The Curse" and "Ju-On: The Curse 2." But with these being low-budget affairs, they’ve both been relegated to the role of "prototypes" in the eyes of many fans; 2002's "Ju-On: The Grudge" is where writer/director Takashi Shimizu really hits his stride. Technically, it was met with mixed reviews at the time of release, but it’s unconventional nonlinear narration, terrifying ghostly little boy and pervasive creepiness has made it a cult classic among J-Horror fans.
Both of these films are considered a must-watch for any true fan of international horror. In the years since they were respectively released, each has gone on to have a lasting impact on the supernatural horror genre. But "Ring" is arguably better executed, and when you take into consideration that it was released first and directly influenced "The Grudge," it takes the first round.
Round 1 Winner - The Ring. The Count: The Ring: 1 / The Grudge: 0
Round 2: The Plot / Basic Premise
Well…The Ring certainly gets points for originality. Long before there were films about killer smartphone apps or haunted skype chats, Ring combined the supernatural with technology to devastatingly terrifying effect.
The plot centers around a cursed videotape that causes the death of anyone who watches it seven days after the ill-advised viewing. In the 1998 film, it's a reporter named Reiko Asakawa who investigates the mysterious videotape after it claims the life of her niece. In the 2002 remake, Naomi Watts plays the equivalent role of Rachel Keller, who is similarly motivated by the death of her sister's daughter. Ju-On/The Grudge is a series with a notably convoluted timeline. But hey, isn't that the mark of any iconic horror franchise?
Before it became complicated by western reboots and alternate continuities however, The Grudge operated around a simple but compelling concept firmly rooted in Japanese folklore: the mythological spirit of the "Onryō." Vengeful spirits, Onryō return to the living world after death and are given the ability to harm the living in order to get even against those who wronged them. Expanding upon this myth, however, is the specific curse of ju-on, which moves beyond this initial purpose and instead seeks to kill others unattached to the original offense, who then in turn become similarly cursed. This is a really close one. Both franchises come armed with a compelling premise. However cool and unique the killer video tape angle is, it feels more limiting in its applications (and a little dated), while Ju-On's cycle of vengeance has a certain timelessness to it. And for that reason, The Grudge takes the round to tie it up.
Round 2 Winner - The Grudge. The Count: The Ring: 1 / The Grudge: 1
Round 3: The American Remakes
If a film makes a big enough splash in its own domestic market to attract international attention, there's a relatively high chance that Hollywood studios will start considering a remake. 1998's "Ringu" was just that sort of hit, and so it became the first in a long string of American-made J-Horror remakes. Directed by Gore Verbinski, 2002's "The Ring" showed great reverence for the original film, recreating a similarly dreary atmosphere and a pervasive sense of dread.
What was perhaps most exciting about the film's success (both with critics and at the box office), is that it served as proof that American audiences had an appetite for something other than slashers; it was a reminder that horror films could be mature, populated by nuanced characters and still succeed. We're not going to sugarcoat it… this 2004 remake is a notably pale imitation of its Japanese namesake, which had been released just two years earlier. The really disappointing thing about this outcome is that sitting in the director's chair was none other than Takashi Shimizu, the Ju-On creator who had directed every film in the franchise up to and including this first installment aimed at western audiences.
Like "The Ring," "The Grudge" performed very well at the box office, but critics were less kind. The achronological narration felt less successful than in the Japanese original, and in trying to make the film appealing to American audiences, it stripped the story of much of what made it work the first time around. This one isn't much of a contest. 2002's "The Ring" was a stronger film in its own right than "The Grudge," and arguably a better adaptation as well.
Round 3 Winner - The Ring. The Count - The Ring: 2 / The Grudge: 1
Round 4: The Leads / Protagonists
For this round we're once again going to be looking at the American remakes. Though critics had many compliments for director Gore Verbinski and the cinematography of Bojan Bazelli, it was arguably lead actor Naomi Watts who really elevated 2002's "The Ring" to such heights.
Not all actors can navigate a supernatural premise and still maintain a sense of gravitas, but Watts enables us to truly believe in her character and (by extension) helps give credence to the threat posed by Samara. With that being said, there were other critics who felt that Watts wasn't given enough to work with, and that what she accomplished, she did despite an underdeveloped character.
As previously stated, 2004's "The Grudge" is a film with a lot working against it. While the nonlinear narration doesn't do the viewers any favors, Sarah Michelle Gellar's Karen Davis provides a much-needed anchor for audiences to hold onto, both in terms of the plot's development and emotionally-speaking. After making a name for herself as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she solidified her status as a Scream Queen with appearances in various horror films. With "The Grudge," despite a weak script and her being just 27 at the time, she brings a sense of maturity to the role of Karen Davis; her performance arguably saves the film from a number of poor creative decisions.This is another incredibly close round.
We're tempted to call it a tie because both Naomi Watts and Sarah Michelle Gellar turn in excellent performances - especially considering the often-low standards of the genre. That being said, we feel that Gellar had much more of an uphill battle, and as such, she earns another win for The Grudge.
Round 4 Winner - The Grudge. The Count - The Ring: 2 / The Grudge: 2
Round 5: The Scares
There are many elements that go into making a quality horror film, but at the end of the day, the one metric by which all horror films pass or fail...is how scary they are. Though the scariest scenes from "The Ring" have perhaps been somewhat neutered by countless parodies, the unnerving atmosphere created by Gore Verbinski (and further aided along by composer Hans Zimmer) hasn't lost any of its effect. And the reality is...when you're sitting in a dark room late at night, seeing Samara climb out of the tv is still freaking terrifying. The shot of Katie's face is also an incredibly effective jump scare that gets us every time. And it’s this careful balance of atmosphere and shocking moments that makes The Ring so effective.
Not all critics appreciated "The Grudge," but Simon Bates of Classic FM reportedly called it the scariest movie he'd ever seen. Jamie Russell of BBC, for his part, could be counted amongst those who were underwhelmed by the film as a whole, but, as he put it, "when it works, you're likely to quiver, cower and leap with fright." Like "The Ring," "The Grudge" maintains all the hallmarks of J-Horror influence, most notable among them being a pervasive feeling of dread and an ambiance that keeps you feeling uneasy from start to finish, even when there's nothing overtly scary onscreen. Both of these films can be counted on for a scary good time.
Unfortunately, for many critics and viewers alike, the major scares were too few and far between in "The Grudge," and as such, the more well-balanced horror of "The Ring" earns it the win, and with that, the competition!
WINNER: The Ring: 3 / The Grudge: 2
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.