underrated Dudley Moore comedy Crazy People, Moore
wrote an ad campaign for a horror movie as follows: "It won't
just scare you, it will f*** you up for the rest of your life."
At several points during The Ring, that quote has a
resonance. Remaking a Japanese horror film while turning American
clichés upside down, director Gore Verbinski has created something
striking, disturbing and haunting. More impressively, he managed
to do it within the constriction of the PG-13 rating.
Ring begins with a scene right out of the Scream
franchise, appropriate as screenwriter Ehren Krueger made
his name finishing out that trilogy. As two Catholic schoolgirls
watch TV on a rainy night, they start talking about the latest
urban legend: the strange videotape that causes people to
die seven days after they watch it.
goofy way that girls do (at least in movies), they tease each
other about it. And then the scene becomes unsettling. Katie
(Amber Tamblyn) confesses that she and three classmates have
watched the tape, exactly one week earlier. Faster than you
can say "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman," something terrible
happens in the house.
it's not fast. Verbinski shows remarkable restraint in just
letting the little things add up to terror. It's agonizing,
because you know something has to be coming. After Katie describes
the tape, the phone rings, a downstairs television turns itself
on, a refrigerator door opens. You've seen it in dozens of
horror films. But then water starts seeping under a bedroom
door. You're hooked.
plot kicks in with Katie's aunt Rachel (Naomi Watts), who
just happens to be a reporter. Spurred to investigate the
sudden stopping of a healthy teenager's heart, Rachel overhears
Katie's classmates spreading the urban legend. Worse, she
finds out that all four teens who watched that tape died at
exactly the same time in different places around Seattle.
start to question how nobody else notices this coincidence,
but Verbinski so amps up the feeling of dread that willing
suspicion of disbelief goes incredibly far. He's playing in
overly familiar territory, but it works.
of the puzzle start to fall into place, Rachel retraces her
niece's trip to a mountain lodge, where she finds the videotape
sitting on a shelf in the lobby. She watches it, a short little
thing described by her ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson)
as "a really bad student film." And then the phone in the
cabin rings. On the other end, a sinister child's voice tells
her, "seven days."
simple little event ratchets up the tension even further,
and Verbinski reflects it by adding subtitles: "Day One…"
etc. Rachel now must solve the mystery before her own death,
an event she considers a very real possibility. In a touch
right out of The Omen, those who have viewed the tape
become blurred on film and video themselves. The gorgeous
Watts has become unphotographable.
her own already creepy young son Aidan (David Dorfman) watches
the tape, Rachel's desperation grows. For our own peace of
mind, it doesn't help that Aidan apparently receives messages
from a little dead girl. At times the movie plays like a straightforward
ghost story, as Rachel and Noah's unravel the circumstances
surrounding the images on the tape. As random as the video
appears to be, it does hold clues to a narrative. Of course,
part of its insidious nature is that the images on the tape
start repeating in real life as the viewer hurtles toward
his or her appointment in…well, to use the old saying would
be to drop a crucial clue. And then before you die…you see
needed to understand what's going on plays out in plain sight.
But Verbinski and Krueger contentedly let the audience think
other elements have greater importance.
have also done more than just cobble together bits from other
horror movies into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
For those who appreciate such things, Verbinski adds a layer
of commentary on film and video, never quite indicting us
for becoming a nation of watchers. Several nods to Hitchcock
appear throughout, including a subtle reversal of Rear
Window. And of course, Noah is right: the tape
does look like a bad student film, all pretension and attempts
at surrealism. Sometimes, the filmmaker seems to say, you've
just got to let go and enjoy a movie as a movie.
make The Ring into a great movie are solid character
actors. Both Jane Alexander and Brian Cox (soon to be the
villain in X-Men 2) appear late in the film, bumping
the acting to a whole new level of quality.
made a splash in Mulholland
Drive, Watts proves that she has what it takes to
be a star, though a lot of people think that star is actually
Nicole Kidman. The Fanboy Planet clue: Nicole has red hair
and an Australian accent; Naomi has blonde hair and an Australian
become absolutely essential for modern horror films, the child
actors provide the scariest performances. Looking like a miniature
David Foley, young Dorfman has an intensity that belies the
seven year old he may actually be. I believe that off camera,
he sees dead people. The ghost girl, played by Daveigh Chase,
doesn't really have that much to do, but in her few scenes
she holds up her end of the bargain.
a few days, when much of the creep factor has faded, plot
holes start to appear, but that only means you have to go
back and see it again to patch them up. And despite the threat
implied by your viewing of the tape, it's okay to watch it
again. Why, it's been seven days since I saw it and nothing
It Worth? $8