Director : Gore Verbinksi
Screenplay : Ehren Kruger (based on the Ringu by Hiroshi Takahashi)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Naomi Watts (Rachel Keller), Martin Henderson (Noah), David Dorfman (Aidan Keller), Brian Cox (Richard Morgan), Jane Alexander (Dr. Grasnik), Lindsay Frost (Ruth), Amber Tamblyn (Katie), Rachael Bella (Becca), Daveigh Chase (Samara Morgan), Shannon Cochran (Anna Morgan)
The Ring is an Americanized remake of Ringu, a wildly popular 1998 Japanese horror film that has already spawned a sequel and a prequel in its native country after breaking box-office records all over Asia. It’s hard to get one’s hand on a copy of the original film here in the States, as the folks at DreamWorks (who produced the new version) don’t want too many comparisons, which is understandable given the heightened rhetoric that surrounds the original. Remakes, by their very nature, are almost always seen as inferior, even if they’re aren’t.
Having not seen the original, I can’t make any comparisons, but on its own The Ring is a solid piece of genre work, although I would argue that horror isn’t necessarily the genre into which it fits best. Rather, it is another entry in the continuing series of modern horror flicks that tend to be more about complex plots and twist endings than fear, dread, and scares (although there’s plenty of that, too)—one might also think of (in descending order of quality) The Devil’s Backbone (2001), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Mothman Prophecies (2002), and Dragonfly (2002). Unlike traditional horror, in these films the terror is not necessarily the point; rather, it’s only one part of a more complex paradigm in which the puzzlebox nature of the narrative is the driving force, where the point is to keep you guessing right until the very end (and guessing which ending is the real ending is the one of the highlights of the game).
Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) stars as Rachel Keller, a single mother and tough-cookie Seattle journalist who stumbles onto an urban legend after the mysterious death of her niece. The legend is about a videotape that literally kills you: If you watch it, you immediately receive a phone call and someone on the other end informs you that you have seven days to live. And, seven days later, you die. Sounds hokey, sure, but once Rachel discovers that the three teenagers who watched the video the night her niece watched it all died on the same night at exactly the same time, it doesn’t seem so hokey. And, after she gets her hands on a copy, watches it, and receives the dreaded phone call, it seems deadly serious.
Although the overall tone and atmosphere of The Ring is that of a horror film, at its core it is a mystery in which Rachel musters all of her journalistic know-how to track down the source of the videotape and unveil the enigmatic history behind it. To do this, she enlists the help of Noah (Martin Henderson), her ex-flame and father of her young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), who is apparently psychic and has some kind of connection to the videotape. Without revealing too much of what happens, I can tell you that their investigation leads them to an foggy island off the northwest coast and a mysterious hulk of a man (Brian Cox) whose tangled family history holds the key to how and why the videotape was made and what its purpose is.
According to what I have read about the original, it left a lot of loose ends and ambiguous issues unresolved. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, Reindeer Games) does his best to clear all that up, offering a great deal of exposition in the film’s last 15 minutes to make it all crystal clear. Unfortunately, the basic narrative is so convoluted and, in many ways, quite silly that the explanations end up looking strained and contrived and, ultimately, unsatisfactory. For all the explaining that goes on, there is still a host of unanswered questions left at the end. This is not, in and of itself, a problem. Ambiguity in horror films often makes them that much more horrific (see Nicolas Roeg’s eerie-beautiful puzzler Don’t Look Now). However, ambiguity in mystery films in which the filmmakers have obviously gone to great lengths to try to explain everything is a problem.
However, narrative troubles aside, The Ring is consistently effective in creeping you out. Director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican) has clearly studied up on horror movie visuals, and he employs virtually everything in the book, from quick subliminal flashes, to drawn out moments of suspense in which characters do things you know they shouldn’t, to John Carpenter’s favorite trick of allowing a horrific presence to lurk in the edges of the frame in soft focus behind the victim. Some of it feels a bit hackneyed (particularly the overly self-conscious opening prologue that features two teenage girls in danger that feels like it was ripped from an ’80s slasher film), but most of it works quite well (the cinematography by Bojan Bazelli is also quite striking).
Ultimately, however, The Ring falls short of both the elegant gothic horrors of a film like The Others or the emotional tear of something like The Sixth Sense, making it a genuine effort that succeeds in its own way, but still falls short of where it wants to be.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick