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MOVIE REVIEW

Ring, The  (2002)

 

Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox
Director:
Gore Verbinski

Rating: R

Studio: DreamWorks SKG

Review Posted: 10.18.02

Spoilers: Minor

 

By Sara Michelle Fetters

 

"The Ring Circles in on Fear"

 

Itís a cinematic double-header for ghost story lovers this weekend at the local Cineplex. Not only is David Twohyís great haunted submarine thriller Below filtering into more theaters nationally, now comes Gore Verbinskiís The Ring, starring Mulholland Driveís Naomi Watts. Not only is it a sensationally scary movie, itís also a real treat for thriller fans sick to death of movies like Swimfan, New Best Friend and Fear.com masquerading as psychological chillers.

 

Rachel Keller (Watts) is a Seattle reporter whoís tragically just lost her niece Katie (Amber Tamblyn, General Hospital). While the medical examiner claims the girl suffered from heart failure, Katieís mother just doesnít buy it and urges Rachel to find the truth. At first reluctant to do so, it isnít until talking to a few of Katieís friends and learning that the girlís boyfriend and two others all died at the exact same time as her niece that the investigative reporterís interest becomes peaked.

 

While looking into their last days, she follows the trail to a remote cabin nudged into the Pacific Northwest countryside. There she learns about a VHS videotape that, according to an urban legend circulating amongst area youth, will kill you seven days after youíve watched it. Finding an unmarked tape nestled amongst a random collection of other films, Rachelís curiosity gets the better of her and she watches the freakish video.

 

Well, you know what they say about curiosity. After a phone call informs her of her impending demise, Rachel becomes understandably intent on finding everything she can about this tapeís mysterious origins and solving the riddle imbedded in its surreal imagery. Enlisting the help of friend and media expert Noah (Martin Henderson, Windtalkers), itís a race against time to put together the clues that can unlock the secret of the cursed video and save her life. This race becomes even more vital after her young son Aidan (David Dorfman, Bounce) watches the tape, sending Rachel onto an increasingly panic-driven quest.

 

Director Verbinski finally fulfills much of that promise as a director so many in Hollywood seem to think heís had. Personally, what with the middling Mousehunt and the train wreck The Mexican, I never saw it. Call me a convert Ė well, at least for one film Ė for Verbinski handles the mechanics of The Ring beautifully. The imagery is subtle, dank and dangerous. He uses the lush Pacific Northwest scenery majestically, making every leaf and rock feel like a harbinger of danger and doom. There are moments that recall the slow, methodical horror of Kubrickís The Shining, and he pulls some nifty stationary camera tricks out of Polanskiís bag hiding action just out of eyesight, much like in Rosemaryís Baby.

 

Gore does go over the top a few times. When one character dies by electrocution, one item canít just fall into the tub. No, Verbinski has to make the small bathroom look like the production designer from Brazil came in and threw every unused appliance from that film in to it. Also, the director is fond of using slow, precise misdirection to then produce a big ďjump!Ē moment and while that works the first couple of times, by the time he does it for the fourth or fifth you canít help but let out a slight yawn.

 

Still, he saves the big jumps and scares for a killer climactic scene. This is a ghost story where the ghost doesnít really do too much and a character's psychological torment mainly gets inflicted by themselves. That said, when the ghost finally does make its move, the sequence is a real corker and one of the truly heart-stopping moments this year. I almost couldnít take it Ė and I knew it was coming.

 

Why? The Ring is based on the highly regarded book by KŰji Suzuki and the outstanding 1998 film Ringu from Japan and is that rare remake that actually stands along side the original. (What a year 2002 has been for foreign-to-Hollywood thriller remakes, what with Christopher Nolanís excellent adaptation of Insomnia earlier this summer and now this. Maybe all those complaints about crappy remakes finally struck a nerve with some of the usually crap-happy executives in Tinsel Town?) Ehren Krugerís (Arlington Road, Scream 3) screenplay is frightfully good, not forgetting to mix in smarts with scares. Itís also surprisingly faithful to the core ideas in the Japanese original while still carving its own creepy path.

 

Also good is Watts, which should come as no surprise to those that caught her in David Lynchís mindbender from last year. As the movie unwinds, she transforms from a selfish workaholic, to obsessed sleuth, to finally a fierce protective mother trying to ensure the welfare of her only child. These arenít traits explicitly spelled out in the script, and it is by Watts own doing that we see it take place, thus wrapping us tighter and tighter to her turmoil and deadly game of Nancy Drew-like mystery solving.

 

Ultimately, though, The Ring just wants to scare the bejesus out of an audience, and that it does in spades. Verbinski and company have crafted an exemplary thriller, and maybe one of the yearís best films, too.

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 4


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