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 pension
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.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman