Ring, The (2002)

Reviewed By Paulapalooza
Posted 10/17/02 06:57:15

"As scary as a wedding."
5 stars (Awesome)

Horror films are a weird breed, indeed. There are rarely any good ones, and the most effective ones tend to be produced outside the studio system, where sheer imagination and balls to the wall bravado can sell this kind of material. So what happens when Dreamworks gets ahold of one of the hottest Asian horror properties EVER?

Well, they improve on it.

I enjoyed the original Japanese film (Hideo Nakata’s RINGU)…it was creepy, well-paced, and true to its own internal logic. Maybe it’s a chasm of cultural understanding, but I just didn’t LOVE it.

I love this movie. I caught a test screening, and I’ve been fawning over it for two months. Anyone who would listen, to them I’d say “Go see THE RING.” Then they’d ask who’s in it, and if they hadn’t seen MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I’d have to pull up short. To those who know Naomi Watts, you know she doesn’t suck, and that she has an ability to enliven even difficult material such as this. She plays Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Rachel Keller who catches wind of an urban legend, a videotape that kills you seven days after you watch it, along with the requisite spooky phone call. After she sees the tape, and gets the sinister prank call, she rightly determines that she has seven days to figure out what the hell’s going on before she takes a dirt nap. And it’s not just a “your heart stops and you fall down” kind of daisy-pushing. Nope, something decidedly sinister and intelligent is behind all this, and while one may be able to deal with their ticker or their head just shutting down, you don’t want the crazy supernatural force coming after you, malevolently stalking.

The rest of the cast acquits themselves admirably. Martin Henderson is a tad bland as Noah, the requisite helper and love interest, but he’s likeable, even, convincingly, a little conflicted. This same role was played very importantly and wisely in the Japanese original, but turning Noah into a himbo makes the characters have to work harder, and it doesn’t make an American audience feel stupid (this is important in American film, by the way). The revelation of his tie to Rachel isn’t exactly surprising, but its timing is, and it adds much-needed emotional weight to the third act of the film. And I know everyone’s tired of “the creepy kid” in modern movies, since studio execs think people like the creepy kid since SIXTH SENSE made a bajillion, but David Dorfman’s Aidan hits all the right notes and will go down with Haley Joel and those girls in THE SHINING as a creepy kid to be written about years from now. He’s smart, he’s probably a little crazy, and he has a real moral weight that the adults lack in their mad dash to save themselves. Brian Cox is even there for a l’il sumin’ sumin’ as the mystery unfolds and the origins of the tape are revealed.

Much credit must go to the effed-up visuals of the tape itself. It’s a decidedly freaky, nightmarish work in its own right, and sets a somber tone for the rest of the proceedings. The iconography of the tape, the images themselves and the fears they suggest, are expertly worked into the plot, so by the end of the film we understand the mind that crafted that emotional snuff film from hell. Perhaps most importantly, by the end of the film we understand why television and/or videotape was chosen as the medium for this message, a question sadly not hinted at in the original film (though perhaps in one of its sequels?).

The final few minutes are expertly crafted, and when you finally get to understand what’s been happening all along to each of the victims, you’re almost as frightened as they might have been. THE RING is almost a classic monster movie in its own way, because someone, somewhere working on this sucker (and you’re hoping its screenplay adapter Ehren Kruger) knows that it’s best to only hint at the monster, or the threat, revealing it fully for the final climax. It’s a slow, sometimes methodical build to the payoff in THE RING, but the payoff is so damn good, you forgive any minor glitches or logical quirks it took to get there. Even the final denouement is an improvement over the original, a twist and turn that leaves more questions, about ethics and the practicalities inherent in such a thing as this tape even existing, than it answers.

Director Gore Verbinski, who’s seemed a bit workmanlike to me in the past, gets the most out of the dreary Seattle setting (I’ve lived there…it is that misty and depressing) and permeates each frame with a deft, sure visual touch. I’m not saying I’m aching to see his follow-up, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, but I probably won’t write it off as Disney claptrap, either. Yet.

I am not disparaging the Japanese original (based on the popular novel by Koji Suzuki). As stated above, I got quite a thrill from its ingenuity and originality. But as far as sheer story goes, with each brushstroke deftly painted, each interlocking girder deftly welded in place, each image having a part to play in building the whole, this just plain stronger work. Hooray America!

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