Friday, October 01, 2010

The Ring (2002)

USA/Japan, 115 minutes
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Ehren Kruger, Koji Suzuki, Hiroshi Takahashi
Photography: Bojan Bazelli
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Richard Lineback, Daveigh Chase, Lindsay Frost, Pauley Perrette, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella

The Ring is a moderately effective horror show with a nifty premise and many nice little touches, all of which it took from the Japanese original of four years earlier, Ringu, but much of which it successfully improves on. The basic idea is that there is a videotape floating around out there that comes tumbling all too easily into the lives of teens and people we know. It plays like a bizarre art-damaged film school project, but one look at it and then the phone rings, a hoarse voice whispers, "Seven days," and just like that you've got a week to live. Oh, and also your face is distorted in photos from that point forward. A vague sense of déjà vu may occur because this movie lifts liberally from disparate source material such as Videodrome (the cathode ray tube as imponderably malevolent), Eraserhead (fucked-up art film also means no good), and Scream (in the overture, which seems tempted to play it for laughs). There's even a cute and quick reference to Rear Window, and some confusing and thus distracting lifts from the TV show "Six Feet Under," which was still new at the time this was made and so maybe it's just some kind of unhappy coincidence. But that tree on top of the hill, and a close-up of rolling gurney wheels, sure look familiar. For much of the overly long middle section, it comes across like Blow-Up or I guess more like All the President's Men as our intrepid reporter hero, Rachel (Naomi Watts), sets to work in dusty libraries and dingy AV studios getting to the bottom of the mystery. It has a beautiful look, shot in dark interiors and gloomy overcast and rain, overlaid by a sickly greenish cast that evokes disease as much as the ubiquitous TV-distorted / -derived staticky fuzz that seems to permeate everything. As by the numbers as this continually drifts toward, particularly when it gets into the weeds of its plot, it nevertheless paces its many fine set pieces so you never have to wait long for the next impressive sequence, or at least small-bore shock: strange things occurring to bodies inside and out of dreams, the elements of the strange film within a film itself, and one very startling and gripping scene with a horse gone mad on an undocked ferry boat. The last 30 minutes or so go through a kind of "my sister / my daughter / my sister" gyration between happy and miserable endings, finally landing on a way to mix them both that leaves us at once relieved and a little sickened—nicely played. I can't say this gets better the more times I've seen it. I suspect this most recent may also be my last, certainly for awhile. It doesn't have that much more to yield up, though the fast-paced editing promised that it might. But the story remains an effective one, the surprises rarely cheat, and some of the things, even when you know they're coming, will still get to you—for example, the picture above. Look at it as much as you like. You're still not going to be prepared for the way you see it in the movie the first time. Hey, a spoiler that doesn't spoil. That's a pretty good sign with horror.

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