November 23, 2003
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost, Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella, Daveigh Chase, Shannon Cochran, Sandra Thigpen, Richard Lineback,
If you’ve seen the Japanese original, you might automatically turn your nose up at the mere hint of a Hollywood remake, but take a step back and judge this baby on its own terms. A huge box office hit in America last year, The Ring is A) genuinely scary, B) A good remake (no, really), C) it’s genuinely scary, and D)…
All of the above.
The Ring follows the same story as the original movie: A female reporter (here it’s Watts, proving her growing success after Mulholland Drive is justified) stumbles upon an urban legend after her niece is found dead in her house. It seems there’s a videotape out there that, if you watch it, you receive a phone call and you’ll die exactly seven days later. Nobody knows who made the tape or why the viewers of said tape are turning up stiffer than titanium. So Watts brings in ex-hubby Noah (the far too good-looking Martin Henderson) to help her analyse the tape and try to track down the creator before more people perish by VHS.
Though the basic premise is the same, Ehren Kruger’s updated script takes some unexpected turns along the way. Comparison to the original is positively encouraged, with sly nods here and there to Japanese culture and director Verbinski playing with the audience’s expectations (the ending is modified to startling effect). This film is first and foremost a horror; it’s supposed to scare the crap out of you, and in this respect it delivers in spades. And clubs. And hearts and diamonds for that matter.
And the success is down to two key things: Verbinski’s stylish camerawork (using muted colours and imaginitive framing to great effect) and Naomi Watts’ performance. In any other hands this ‘cursed video’ premise could have been laughable, and to be honest there were a couple of scenes that were flat out absurd, yet for the most part Watts draws you into her growing sense of dread and terror with the utmost skill. She could read the phonebook for two hours and people would pay to see her do it (well, I would anyway. And the five people who actually figured out Mulholland Drive).
Yet perhaps what stands out most here is the sound design. Video’s hum in machines, rain patters on windows, silences are broken by ear-splitting shrieks of white noise that stand the hair at the back of your neck to attention on a purely primeval level. The secret to a great scary movie is having quiet moments in-between the scares, and jumping ahead of the audience’s expectations (“Ooh, here comes the scare in about five secon- ARRRRGGGHHH!!”), and Verbinski certainly knows how to make people flinch.
Another new element is the inclusion of horses to the story. People have commented that this seems a little pointless, but anyone who has stood near a horse and been nervous it might suddenly lash out and break their spine with one swift kick will know they are scary things, and I for one thought it was a clever move on Kruger’s part. You become nervous in their company but you don’t know why, much in the same way a spider scares you purely because it has eight legs.
Thespian-wise, Brian (I’m in every film this year don’tcha know) Cox is dull and annoying and it’s not hard to lose compassion for pretty boy Henderson, who would be much more at home in something like Melrose Place. And the mystery story loses credibility in the end after such a decent build up. But there are plenty of shocks and striking imagery for the film to stick in your head long after you’ve gone home to bed. (I overheard a somewhat shaken girl describe it as an ‘evil movie’ as she left, which is surely the highest rating a horror could get).
A sequel is in the works, though don’t expect it to follow the same pattern as the Japanese sequel ‘Ringu 2’.
You may also be interested to learn that Chris ‘American Beauty’ Cooper had a role, as a child murderer, but was cut out after test screenings (along with some more graphic murder scenes). Apparently if you look at the newspaper that the coffee mug lifts up from at the end, you’ll see a picture of his character amongst the text.
So, in summary, if you’re a fan of the original movie you’ll either love or hate the remake by default, but I urge everyone who likes a good scare to check out The Ring. You might be surprised. What it lacks in intelligence it makes up for with genuine chills.