In this age of whizbang technology, it was only a matter of time before the forces that be sought to cash in on it with the moving picture. The avenue or gimmick that has been chosen is the soon to be extinct VHS tape and the mode of transporation that is ensconced with that black reel of tape. The premise of this tale is simple -- the unmitigated attempt to scare the pants off the viewer and add another notch onto the long list of "urban legends" that permeate American folklore.
The film entreats us to enter into the soon to be radically changed lives of two teenage girls, Katie Embry and 'Becca' Kottler (Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella) spending a boring night at Katie's home while parents are away. They are commiserating to one another the random blahs that are associated with being a teenager with just a little too much time on one's hands. Before the evening is over, one will be dead of a stroke at 16 and the other a patient on the mental ward. The scenario has been set by the revelation uttered by Becca that upon viewing a certain videotape, the phone would ring afterwards and the person who had watched the tape would be told by an eerie, female voice that they have precisely seven days left to live; no more, no less. Being the teenagers that they are and knowing that feeling of invincibility that is somehow genetically ingrained within them, they scoff at so incredible a claim. Those first movie minutes, though, will radically change for them and the audience, and suffice it to say, not for the better.
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) as Katie's aunt, is a reporter for a Portland newspaper, and as such, is asked by her mother to find out precisely what happened and why. Rachel's young son, Aidan (David Dorfman) was close to Katie and a week before she died, he had drawn a disturbing number of drawings depicting her death and burial. With a nose for research, Rachel begins her journey and very quickly discovers the elusive tape and being the journalist that she is, she watches it with disturbing results. She has set the clock in motion for her own demise, if the tale is to be believed.
Soon, her friend, video expert and ex-lover, Noah (Martin Henderson) has also watched the tape and agrees to help her unravel this tale before it does them both in. Necessity becomes the mother of invention when, on a nightmare night, a third potential victim, Rachel's young son, unable to sleep, views the tape as well. Time becomes of the utmost essence as they are all in a race against death.
To say that this film doesn't provide chills and unexpected turns in the road would be an injustice. The twists and turns, the precision and pacing of scenes, the doom and gloom, Sturm und Drang, the photography (marvelously filmed by Bojan Bazelli with an eye to detail), the rain and the grey of the sets -- all are mood enhancers that carry us further into the nightmare that has become a cursed reality and places the puzzle on a course for destruction on an undulating scale.
The Ring is that rare film that deviates from the norm that one would expect of such a project. The lists are filled with slasher flicks that strew bodies, blood, gore and non-credibility of story across the screen. The Ring is based on the Japanese film, Ringu (1998), and taken from the novel by Koji Suzuki of the same name, with a screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi. This American version was penned by Ehren Kruger. Previous directorial work by Gore Verbinski never gave an indication of what he was really capable of in this endeavour. One could sarcastically ask, "what's to be expected from someone who was the creator of the Budweiser frogs and such light fare as "Mouse Hunt?". I think with more time and dedication to his craft, and the backing of willing and deep pocketed studios, Mr. Verbinski may use this movie as a foundation for better and better projects.
While The Ring is not on a level with films such as the psychologically charged The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (1963), nor with M. Night Shyamalan's superb The Sixth Sense (1998), it tries mightily to hit a ball of home run proportions out of the stands. The standard use of a story that on one level entices us to "go ahead, open that door," or "look like you're ready to scream yourself silly at the first instance of doing precisely what you tell the actor on the screen to NOT do when you watch a scary movie," are key elements to what makes us terrified of that spectre of uncertainty . The machinations portrayed here, though, are not of the roller coaster variety, but rather of the temporary stopping of the heart and the air we breathe coterie; before the next wave hits to make us captive within its grasp.
Even though The Ring stays in the ballpark with a triple, there is still room for more workouts of the writing variety, as gaps in the story flow have one wondering at the end precisely what it was that caused a certain action to fall as it did. The ending provided an unexpected and fantastic twist in the proceedings and to know it is to love it. A smoother melding of the proceedings that would have carried us from A to Z, rather than hopscotching from A to C, back to A and then to H before we wind up back at E, would have stayed the course with firmer results.
The special effects by Terry Chapman, Burt Dalton, Jurgen Heimann and Rick Baker of Cinovation are catchy and not to be missed and in the closing moments of the film, they are utterly mesmerizing.
The acting of the cast was what was to be expected, although it must be noted that young Aidan (Dorfman), precocious, somber and emoting as much feeling as the drip of a Chinese water torture, began to grate on the last unfrazzled nerve of the reviewer. His reference to his mother by her first name was like fingernails down a blackboard. Ms. Watts is a fine screamer and could at moments, find herself possessed of a certain degree of the "oh my god! What do we do now?" about her. Mr. Henderson is that typical breed of actor who being young, handsome and forthright, has many years ahead in which to perfect his craft, without having the current crop of male cookie cutter cuties worried about the next up and coming. The marvelous Jane Alexander, always a joy to behold, does work her magic in the small role of the island town doctor who adds another part to the puzzle that is slowly beginning to take shape for Rachel. It's a pity, though, that her time was so short in the film, for if you blinked, you missed her.
If you have a lazy afternoon to spend, or perhaps have friends over one night, "The Ring" will provide the needed screams, eyes of the closed or behind the hands variety, and the "oh my gosh, did you see that!" necessary, but if real suspense is what you crave, check out the two above mentioned films from your videostore, turn the lights off, lock all the doors, keep the phone handy and prepare for those things that go "bump in the night."
Born Gregor Verbinski, this visually inventive director got his start in advertising before making his feature debut in 1997 with the anarchic comedy Mousehunt. He helmed the critically-maligned thriller The Mexican and hit horror remake The Ring, while swashbuckling epic Pirates of the Caribbean, with Johnny Depp, spawned a multi-million dollar franchise. He left that after the third instalment to make his first animation, the comedy Western Rango which he followed with a live action one, mega-flop The Lone Ranger, then another flop, the horror remake A Cure for Wellness. Verbinski was also creator of Budweiser's frog TV ad campaign.