Every scene and every shot of "The Ring," the smart American remake of the popular 1998 Japanese horror film "Ringu," contains a nearly suffocating feeling of dread. It weighs down heavily on the characters' lives and the viewer's head, 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 your skin.
The frightening prologue is a real attention-grabber. During a sleepover, two teenage girls, Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella), discuss a legend involving a videotape in which, the moment you finish watching it, you receive a telephone call informing you that you have seven days to live. After Katie informs Becca that she watched it exactly a week ago, things grow quite dire.
Enter single mother and news reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), 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 watches 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 lessen the impact or dumb down its foreign counterpart. Not overly violent and with almost no gore, the unshakable effectiveness it mutters 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 that gets loose on a barge headed for an 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 (Martin Henderson) and young son (David Dorfman) view the tape themselves, Watts' performance is fresh and likable. 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 who somehow is behind the tape's origin.
A character in and of itself are the picture's top-notch technical attributes. The atmospheric cinematography, by Bojan Bazelli, is marvelous, with vivid fog-shrouded and rain-drenched landscapes and a penchant for indelible gray and blue hues. Likewise, the music score, by Hans Zimmer (2001's "Black Hawk Down
"), aids in keeping the viewer off balance, as does Craig Wood's taut film editing.
"The Ring" is a merciless thriller, threateningly beautiful to look at and eerie to behold. Director Verbinski and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (2000's "Scream 3
") refuse to let its characters off the hook, cleverly setting up a false predictable and conventional ending and then going on for another fifteen minutes to totally skewer expectations. As Roger Ebert once said in describing Alfred Hitchcock's work on 1960's "Psycho
," Gore Verbinski delights in playing his audience like a piano. With "The Ring," he plays it with the skill of a master.
©2002 by Dustin Putman