Our review of The Ring (Blu-ray), published March 23rd, 2012, is also available.
Before you die, you see the ring.
It's a conundrum.
I truly can't think of any movie that I have ever seen that has scared me. Some silly black cat jumping from the shadows doesn't count as anything more than a cheap attempt to unnerve me. No, I'm talking about a film that creates such an atmosphere of despair that I begin to tense up and get nervous. My trepidation mounts with each passing minute, growing little by little until I'm genuinely afraid and shivering in my chair.
I'm a jaded horror movie fan. Being born in 1970, I missed that decade's offerings due to my obvious young age. By the late '80s, when I finally was able to see "horror" films, all that we really had to choose from included the likes of Jason, Michael, and Freddy. We all know those aren't horror films; they're slasher films. Unfortunately, there's nothing truly frightening in that genre. Even the fare in the '90s didn't get much better, but there were a couple that worked to reestablish the lost art of an honest horror film.
Skip ahead another decade and another century, and we find Hollywood needs some help creating a spooky movie. Fortunately, a group of Japanese filmmakers created a little film called Ringu that captivated audiences with a breath of fresh air. Seeing an easy opportunity, Hollywood grabbed up the rights and gave birth to a remake. Is it any good, or did the U.S. movie factory once again fail to bring us an actual chilling film?
Facts of the Case
You're not supposed to help her!
A group of friends sneaks off to a little getaway at a state park for a weekend of fun. During their trip, they somehow end up watching a tape that contains a series of very disturbing images—as if the scenes were recorded straight from a terrible nightmare. After they watch the tape, the phone rings and a mysterious young voice simply says "seven days."
Seven days later, we find Katie, one of the girls from the previous weekend, hanging with one of her friends, Becca. It's just the usual boring Saturday night until Becca begins to talk about the new urban legend. It tells of a videotape that kills the people who watch it, though they don't die right away. The victims get to watch the tape, they then receive a phone call from someone who knows they just watched the tape, and then they're told they will die in seven days. Katie immediately begins to freak out because she's seen this tape.
Just a few minutes later, Katie dies from unknown causes.
At the funeral, Katie's aunt Rachel (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr.) begins to piece together some of the odd events that led up to her niece's untimely death. Rachel soon learns about the story of the tape and the fact that Katie and her friends watched it. Being a newspaper reporter, she begins to investigate further and horrifyingly discovers that everyone with Katie who saw the tape all died at 10:00PM Saturday night.
Rachel continues to dig into this seemingly bizarre situation. One clue leads to another, and Rachel finds the tape the kids watched that fateful evening. Not believing such a tale, Rachel watches the video. A few seconds after the tape ends, her phone rings. She picks it up only to hear two words, "seven days."
Quickly becoming a believer, Rachel enlists the help of her friend Noah to decipher the images on the tape. With her seven days quickly disappearing, will she be able to learn all of the tape's secrets? What is the tape trying to say? Where did it come from? Is it really possible that this tape could kill you? Will Rachel die?
I wonder how long someone can survive down there?
In recent memory, just a few movies bubble to the surface when people talk about a truly scary film: The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, and now The Ring. I've seen all three, and as Meatloaf likes to say, "two out of three ain't bad." When the buzz begins to build about a film, my curiosity is piqued. Will this movie be the one to frighten me? Will this movie truly be a horror film? Will this movie be more than the buzz? I want to see a great, suspenseful, dramatic horror flick that'll keep me up at night. None of these three has succeeded in doing that for me. Now, while The Blair Witch Project was nothing more than some stupid, whiny kids who get lost in the woods—though the very end was excellent—The Sixth Sense and The Ring successfully created enjoyable movie environments. I'm not going to take much time to debate the merits of horror films of the past and present, but some small mention is warranted, lest you think me ignorant on the subject. We all have what we consider to be pivotal movies in the genre, as recently debated in our Jury Room, and not everyone reacts the same to horror films. For me, besides being scared, I like to be immersed in a dark and perhaps sinister situation, not simply dumped into the exploits of a murdering fiend.
The Ring may not be a truly scary film, but it works in creating a delicious environment of despair and fear. Our characters truly believe that they are in mortal danger, which is then encapsulated in every move they make. Their actions in attempting to unlock the secrets of the videotape, the twisted stories that unfold, and the bizarre actions that take place compel viewers to sit uneasily in their chairs. The Ring is a great suspense film that will draw you in and keep you riveted until the final seconds. You think you have it all figured out? Well, it's quite possible that you don't know everything that is going to happen.
One item that seems to frequent discussions on this film is the notion that The Ring fails to answer a multitude of questions. The complete puzzle of the videotape and Samara is never completely pieced together. Actually, it's more like your five hundred piece puzzle is missing about a hundred pieces. There are an exceptional number of who, what, where, when, and whys left unanswered. After watching the movie, I said the same thing. What? That's the end? But what about…? And…? And this…? There truly are a multitude of events left unconnected, and many a viewer will grouse about the open-ended fashion of the film. Fortunately, anyone who's taken a few minutes to surf the 'net would quickly learn of the history of the original Japanese version of the film, Ringu (and, even that title is under debate as to whether it is "Ringu" or simply "Ring"—for simplicity, I'll be using the former).
Released in Japan in 1998, Ringu quickly became a successful movie. People loved the film so much that there already have been released a multitude of "sequels." In fact, the number of movies, TV shows, and radio programs is quite impressive for a five-year-old film. The original Ringu was actually based on the first book of a trilogy written by Suzuki Koji (1991), which is to be soon released in the U.S. The history of "The Ring" movies is also fairly complicated and quite interesting. Did you know that two "Ring" movies were actually made and released at the same time: Ringu and Rasen? While Ringu became the smash hit we all know and love, Rasen bombed and is easily considered the black sheep of the family—the less talked about, the better.
Though sharing many commonalities with its Japanese roots, the Americanized version of the film does offer a slightly different take on the tale of the ring. Though I cannot personally attest to that fact, I will definitely have to give Ringu a rental to compare the two. What I have heard is that the films are remarkably similar, which appears to be accurate when you watch the included trailer of Ringu on the disc. Of course, one should not be surprised to see the American version duplicate the success of the original. In fact, The Ring 2 is already in development.
In addition to a rather smart plot, which only slips into preposterousness in the final few moments, the movie itself is filmed beautifully. Director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, Mouse Hunt) and his director of photography Bojan Bazelli (Kalifornia, Surviving the Game) crafted a movie with remarkable style and visual appeal. Though I'm sure a great deal of it was borrowed and/or influenced by the original, I would like to think that these two imparted a healthy dose of their own technique into the film. The direction is brisk and precise with a nice flair in the movements and angles. Add to that some truly beautiful locales and shots, and the film is way outside the mold of a stereotypical horror film. I believe the cinematography in the film is some of the finest I've seen in years.
In the acting department, the cast does a commendable job portraying the necessary fright associated with such an unbelievable situation. Naomi Watts is certainly the key player to the film, and her performance is top notch. She brings enough fire and passion to the screen to make the whole story seem plausible—for a movie, that is. Her fear is almost palpable, and your pulse quickens with anticipation as her days quickly tick away. One of my favorite character actors makes a brief appearance here: Brian Cox (The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Bourne Identity, Adaptation). Unfortunately his part is relatively small in the film, yet his character is necessary in successfully expanding the plot. Though onscreen for maybe five minutes, he once again hits the mark perfectly. On the downside of the acting is child actor David Dorfman (Bounce), who plays Rachel's son, Aidan. I'll grant that the boy has some decent acting ability, but I think Gore failed in the direction for this character—there's just too much allusion to Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense. It's not a fresh angle for the child, which detracts from his key role in the film.
The disc itself is a mixed blessing from DreamWorks. First, the good news: the transfers. The video is presented in a sparkling anamorphic widescreen, and I found absolutely no problems with it. Nice, rich, accurate colors; solid blacks; brilliant sharpness; and life-like detail all combine for an excellent display. As always, it's an excellent job by the studio. That excellence continues with the audio transfers, of which you have a variety of choices. Specifically for us English speakers, there are DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. All are very well done with, again, no transfer errors. Everything is crystal clear, with hiss-free dialogue, nice use of the surrounds, and some solid punch from the subwoofer. As usual, if you own the proper equipment, you will find the DTS to be the superior choice of the three. Luckily, there is nothing amiss in any of the transfers, so you're safe with whichever option you need to choose.
Now, the bad news: For those of you looking for a healthy assortment of bonus materials, you won't find them here. There are exactly two extra features. The first, entitled "Don't Watch This" on the menu, is what is being billed as "A never-before-seen short film created by Gore Verbinski exclusively for the video release that reveals more electrifying secrets about the mystery of The Ring." That's a load of horse-hockey. This new film is actually a compilation of several deleted scenes from the film edited together in the chronological order of the movie. It's not a new film at all but just a semi-clever way to present the material, which runs just about fifteen minutes. The scenes themselves are interesting in that the characters actually explored a bit more of their world and learned a few other odds and ends. I believe a few of the scenes may have added a touch to the film, but, as usual, they seem to be smart cuts overall. The second, entitled "Look Here" on the menu, is simply three movie trailers shown back-to-back-to back: Ringu, Catch Me If You Can, and 8 Mile. And that's it for the official bonus features. No commentaries, no featurettes, no text-based information. For those of you wanting to know more about The Ring, you'll just have to wait for the sequels or find the original Japanese films.
There is a little Easter egg hidden on the main menu. When you find it, you'll get to see the complete video of the infamous tape that causes all the trouble in the film. When I inadvertently accessed it a second time, I amusingly learned that I couldn't stop it from playing unless I was to physically turn the power off on my machine. I thought that was clever. In addition, the egg also ends in a predictable, if not cute, fashion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Very film school.
At its best, The Ring is just another lame and boring attempt at making a scary movie. Granted, it has more style and panache than that dud The Blair Witch Project, but it's nothing more than a glorified potboiler. Clue A easily leads to B and then to C and so on. There's nothing groundbreaking in the story, nothing inspired in the direction, and nothing frightening in the total presentation. People are so desperate for a good scare, that anything that halfway approaches that mark is instantly hailed as a success. It misses that mark and fails in immersing the viewer in an honest horror movie.
At its worst, The Ring is simply another movie that brings out the boring old clichés and assumes we are all mindless automatons. Cue the violins! Here comes a scary scene!
You start to play it and it's like somebody's nightmare.
The Ring pleasantly surprised me. Even though I was disappointed in again not yet finding a movie to make me honestly jump in my seat, the film clearly makes up for that minimal shortcoming with a solid story, fine acting, and an excellent atmosphere of fear and dismay. Perhaps the word horror itself can no longer be accurately applied to the genre. We're such the jaded society that so very little frightens us anymore—as professed in Monsters, Inc.—that we are happy when a movie comes along to put us into a suspenseful environment. We'll call that horror. In the end, perhaps that is all we can hope for anymore: a place that is wrought with danger and obstacles that our hero or heroine must navigate to save themselves and others from harm, all mixed together with a dash of a supernatural element.
Regardless, The Ring is a solid suspense film that will mesmerize you with its images and its tale. It'll keep you in suspense until the end, and then you'll be craving more. This disc is definitely recommended, and I hope you get more of a shiver from it than I.
You don't want to hurt anybody, do you?
All charges are hereby dropped. The Ring is free to go and continue crafting its cycle of desolation and hopelessness.
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Scales of Justice
• Don't Watch This: A New Short Film by Gore Verbinski
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