2002, PG-13, 115 min. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 18, 2002
The less said about The Ring, the better for you, the sooner-to-be-freaked-out. Based on Hideo Nakata's 1998 Japanese smash Ringu (itself based on Koji Suzuki's equally popular novel), this Americanized version hews closely to its source material for much of its duration, which translates into wicked little frissons of unease and a handful of genuine scares that rival those disturbing, “what the hell -- oh my god!” sequences in The Blair Witch Project. Apart from its well-sustained sense of creeping dread, however, The Ring has nothing in common with Blair Witch -- it's far more a classic tale of urban paranoia and unseen (or briefly seen) spooks than that indie horror experiment, and it holds up extremely well when compared to Nakata's original mind-warper. The only genuine problem I had with Verbinski's film is that he and screenwriter Ehren Kruger have siphoned off much of the mystery from Ringu; there are explanations galore where there ought to be none. It's a minor quibble, I suppose, considering that this is by far the most disturbing Hollywood horror show since David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, and compared to the slash-by-the-numbers drivel that's been passing for horror lately, it resonates with all the anxiety of a panic attack. When Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Rachel Keller (Watts) stumbles on a mysterious urban legend concerning a bizarre videotape that results in the deaths of all who view it, she tracks it to its source, and discovers there's more to myth than meets the eye. When ex-husband Noah (Henderson) and young son Aidan (Dorfman) become ensnared in the tape's viral evil, Rachel must figure out just what, exactly, is going on before her suddenly limited time -- and theirs -- is up. I'll say no more on the plot -- The Ring is exactly the type of film that needs to be seen with little or no introduction to ensure its creepy-crawly powers -- but I will note that Verbinski and company have nailed the look of the original film, transposing it from drizzly Japan to the drizzly Pacific Northwest with much of the chilly atmosphere intact. Watts, so compelling in Lynch's Mulholland Drive, is perhaps not the perfect choice for the role; blond and gorgeous, she stands out in this otherwise overcast film like a Barbie doll in a morgue. Still, she registers the encroaching horrors with shocked eyes, and her maternal instinct (playing to the terrific Dorfman, whose own eyes look as though they haven't slept in any of his eight years) is believably frantic. Not for the easily disturbed, The Ring is ultimately not as memorably warped as Nakata's original (available at your local indie video store and highly recommended), which left me jumping at late-night phone calls and dreading blank video snow squalls. It comes admirably close, though, and should be seen and absorbed, if only to recall that Hollywood horror does, occasionally, get it more or less right.