Every scene and every shot of "The Ring," the smart American remake of the popular 1998 Japanese horror film "Ringu," prompts a nearly asphyxiating aura of dread. It weighs down heavily on the characters' lives and viewers' heads, refusing to let up. Directed by Gore Verbinski (2001's "The Mexican
") with a sharp eye for visual detail and a keen sense of generating suspense, the film is a creepy and considerably unsettling experience that works its way deeply under one's skin.
The startling, deliberately paced prologue is a real attention-grabber. During a sleepover, two teenage girls, Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella), discuss an urban legend wherein watchers of a cursed videotape immediately receive a telephone call informing them they have only seven days to live. After Katie confesses to Becca that she watched it exactly a week ago, things readily grow dire. Enter news reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a single mother who is asked by her sister (Lindsay Frost) to investigate the circumstances surrounding daughter Katie's mysterious sudden death. Rachel's research ultimately leads her to the infamous tape in question. When she views it and, to her horror, receives the cryptic phone call, the countdown to her impending death begins. Unless Rachel can find out where the tape originated and put a stop to the curse, she faces the same fate as her unfortunate niece.
"The Ring" is a superbly crafted horror film that, rare to form, does not dumb down or lessen the impact of its foreign counterpart. Not overly violent and with almost no gore, the unshakable effectiveness it musters up comes from what is hinted at, but not seen. This tactic works magnificently, since the characters themselves are faced with something that they do not understand. The opening scene, for example, has a setup similar to 1996's "Scream," but instead of ending in a bloodbath, opts for nothing more than a horrific sense of not knowing what to expect. Another sequence involving a crazed horse getting loose on a barge en route to Pacific Northwest's fictional Moesko Island is spectacularly tense and imaginative.
Naomi Watts, in her first leading role in a studio picture, does not disappoint after her breakthrough work in last year's David Lynch masterpiece, "Mulholland Drive
." As Rachel, whose situation grows even grimmer after her ex-boyfriend, Noah (Martin Henderson), and young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), view the tape themselves, Watts' performance is fresh and likable, contemplative and typically layered. Great character actor Brian Cox (2002's "The Bourne Identity
") is a welcome addition as a man with close ties to the tape, and Daveigh Chase (2001's "Donnie Darko
") is unnervingly good as a child somehow behind the tape's origin.
"The Ring" is a merciless thriller, threateningly beautiful to look at and eerie to behold. Verbinski and screenwriter Ehren Kruger refuse to let their possibly doomed protagonistsRachel, Noah and Aidanoff the hook, cleverly setting up a falsely predictable ending bred in conventions before pressing on for another fifteen minutes as they totally skewer expectations. Characters in and of themselves are the picture's top-notch technical attributes. Bojan Bazelli's atmospheric cinematography is marvelous, full of vivid fog-shrouded locations and rain-drenched landscapes, its color scheme with a moody penchant for indelible gray and blue hues. Likewise, Hans Zimmer's (2001's "Black Hawk Down") music score and Craig Wood's taut editing serve to keep the audience off balance. In his description of Alfred Hitchcock's work on 1960's Psycho, the late Roger Ebert once famously wrote that the director "plays his audience like a piano." The same could be said for Gore Verbinski's laudatory work here. As with the "conundrum"-causing videotape at the center of the film, once "The Ring" has been seen, there is no unseeing it. The deliciously distressing spell has already been cast.
©2002 by Dustin Putman