Director: Gore Verbinski
You know, until 2002, there weren't very many horror movies that could really, truly, scare me. The only one that came close was the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. I guess it's the fact that many horror movies simply tried to be shocking instead of scary, while others simply were more interested in ripping each other off until they all started to look alike. And then I saw The Ring. Even after repeated viewings, it's one of the creepiest movies I've ever seen. A remake of Hideo Nakata's immensely popular Japanese horror movie Ringu, which itself was based Kôji Suzuki's novel of the same name, The Ring is a movie that makes an attempt to stand out from standard American fare. Seemingly taking inspiration from murder mysteries, Asian ghost stories, and David Cronenberg's Videodrome along with its source material, The Ring ended up becoming a big hit and prompted American studios to start optioning the remake rights to any Asian horror movie they could get their hands on. But let's get to the review, shall we?
The plot may sounds simple, but there's more to it than it seems. We begin the movie in the Seattle suburbs with schoolgirls Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella) watching television, discussing how the magnetic waves from TV and cell phones rot your brain. Since nothing good is on TV, the pair decide to start telling ghost stories. Becca starts, telling of an urban legend about a nightmarish videotape. After watching the tape, the viewer's phone rings, and a voice says, "You will die in seven days." And a week later, the cryptic warning comes true.
Becca finishes the story, and Katie grows horrified. She tells Becca that something similar happened to her and three friends exactly seven days earlier, but smiles and tells Becca she was just joking. The girls go downstairs to answer a phone call, and Becca heads back upstairs. Katie pours herself a glass of lemonade, and the living room TV turns on by itself, blaring static. She turns it off, but it turns itself back on. Katie, understandably freaked out, unplugs the TV and runs upstairs, where water is coming from underneath her bedroom door. She opens the door, and her TV flashes an image of a well. Katie begins to scream and we cut to black.
We move along to Katie's cousin Aidan Keller (David Dorfman), hanging out after school. His mom, newspaper reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts), arrives to pick him up, at which point Aidan gets up and announces he'll be waiting in the car while his teacher conducts a little parent/teacher discussion. Aidan's all mature and proper, and he even calls Rachel by her first name. If my kid acted all hoity-toity, called me by my first name, and was a know-it-all pain like this kid, I'd knock that little turd back to the future. But that's just me. Anyway, the teacher's concerned about some rather morbid drawings Aidan drew of a girl being buried. Rachel blows it off as Aidan's way of coping with Katie's death, but the teacher says that Aidan started drawing the pictures several days before she died. Sounds like the kid has a complex. If this were anything but a horror movie, little Aidan would be what we call a "serial killer in training." Anyway, at Katie's funeral, Rachel's sister asks her to investigate, since Rachel's credentials as a reporter obviously make her the leading candidate for discovering the truth behind the supernatural death of a teenage girl. The initially skeptical Rachel overhears three high school students talking about what happened, one of them claiming that the killer tape is what led to Katie's untimely demise.
Rachel digs deeper, discovering that Katie and her three friends all died at exactly the same time on the same day. Rachel heads out to the cabin the four friends stayed at and talks to the caretaker, who says they rent out videos (most of which are hand-me-downs from guests who left them behind) because the TV reception isn't that great. It's the 21st century, and they don't have cable or a satellite dish? I guess they aren't offered in their neighborhood. Anyway, Rachel notices a tape with no box or labels, and takes it with her to the cabin Katie stayed in. She pops the tape into the VCR, and it's nothing but bizarre, surreal images. Disembodied fingers, a woman jumping off a cliff, a burning tree, dead horses on a beach, a ladder against a wall, and most prevalently, a large glowing ring and a well in the middle of nowhere. It looks like what would happen if David Fincher and Ingmar Bergman got together and did a movie. The tape ends, and in one of the film's most eerie moments, the phone rings. Rachel picks it up, and a voice whispers, "Seven days." The urban legend is true, and Rachel's clock is ticking. She enlists her video geek ex-lover Noah (Martin Henderson) to help her investigate the tape, and the estranged pair race against time to not only save the lives of themselves and their son Aiden, but solve the puzzle of how the mysterious videotape relates to a series of tragic incidents at a horse ranch and a long-dead little girl named Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase).
The Ring is one of those movies that you're either going to really love or really hate. Me, I love it. The bleak, rainy atmosphere are both frightening and stunning. Gore Verbinski's direction and Bojan Bazelli's cinematography are absolutely stunning, the washed-out blue-green colors and wonderful camerawork making the film look brilliant. Also brilliantly scary is Hans Zimmer's mellow, haunting score, and his use of recurring themes throughout the movie. One particular piece (the music that plays over the end credits) repeats numerous times for chilling effect, and its use throughout the movie never grows tiresome or repetitious. The acting is superb, though David Dorfman came off as trying to emulate Haley Joel Osment's performance from The Sixth Sense with a smarmy holier-than-thou attitude. Martin Henderson is fun, and Brian Cox (who I'd only seen as Hannibal Lector in Manhunter prior to seeing The Ring) hands in a wonderfully intense performance as pissed-off horse farmer Mr. Morgan, but holding the show together is leading lady Naomi Watts. Jennifer Connelly, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale were all offered the role prior to Watts, but I can't imagine anyone else as the star. Watts is perfect here, taking Ehren Kruger's screenplay and making it even better than it is. If she decided to become a 21st-century scream queen, I wouldn't complain. However, one could argue that the highlight of the cast is Daveigh Chase as Samara, the spooky little girl with the long dark hair and the deeper, darker intentions. Without spoiling too much, she plays the role excellently, making me pity and fear her at the same time. Despite only being twelve years old when The Ring was released, I found her portrayal of Samara to be seriously frightening. It takes some serious talent to go from being the lead character in Lilo And Stitch to the villain in The Ring, folks.
We Americans are used to having our horror movies explain everything to us, but The Ring is different. The movie is ambiguous and vague, perhaps because American audiences simply wouldn't get the explanations given in the Ringu films. If someone in the movie said the killer videotape and those weird x-ray drawings were created via "nensha," would you get it? I'll bet you wouldn't. But that's the thing. Even though it doesn't explain everything and tie up all the loose ends, it prompts the viewer to use his or her imagination. Our own imaginations can create things far scarier than anything a filmmaker could actually show us, which is a lot more fun. The Ring is a rare horror film, one that relies more on dread and atmosphere than graphic violence or loud noises to scare its audience. Sure, the movie has a few jump scares, but its fear is accomplished elsewhere. And unlike most remakes, The Ring honors its source material. Many remakes take a famous movie title and a skeleton frame, and go off in some insane direction that is nothing like the original. While that works in some cases, The Ring sticks much closer to Ringu and is better because of it. Sure, there's some changes (like the aforementioned ambiguity), but what we have in The Ring is a fine example that not all remakes are bad. The movie is well-crafted, well-acted, and downright scary. Say nay all you want, but The Ring is one of the best horror movies I've ever seen. For that, I'll give it four stars. Sutton says check it out, and don't be surprised if televisions and wells make you nervous afterwards.
Final Rating: ****