by DAVID KEYES
"The Ring" is an oasis for audiences dehydrated
of creativity in modern movie thrillers, an exciting and
often brilliant ghost story that penetrates the core of
formula, rips it wide open and erases every trace of cliché
like a hit man taking special care to clean up after himself.
Most films in this vein work against the mold simply because
filmmakers want them to, but seldom do they seem to abolish
the standards without even trying, or without so much as
a concern of undertaking the task. Don't ask me to explain
how or why, but something about this creepy and unnerving
suspense vehicle is almost fortuitous about itself, as if
the writer never entertains the notion that the script is
shattering boundaries almost as easily as it is telling
The movie opens with a familiar setup; two teen girls,
bored one night during a sleep-over in a great big empty
house, begin chatting about urban legends. Katie (Amber
Tamblyn) is told by her friend about the infamous legend
of 'The Ring,' which involves watching a video of lurid
imagery, being phoned by a weird voice to be told that you
have a week to live, and then dying right on schedule. Naturally,
she shrugs the story off like an innocent fairy tale despite
the unexpected admission that she watched such a tape herself
a week earlier with some friends. Next scene: Katie is hearing
noises, her TV set is turning itself on, and water begins
trickling from underneath her bedroom door. She is later
found dead, supposedly as a result of her heart stopping.
Enter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a smart and swift reporter
who, as luck would have it, is a cousin to the recently
deceased Katie. During the reception following her relative's
funeral, she casually passes in and out of others' conversations
about Katie's strange death, learning about the odd urban
legend which not only claimed her life, but also those of
her friends who saw it themselves. After doing some research
into this mysterious revelation, Rachel discovers that the
four teenagers who supposedly watched this tape all died
at the exact same time on the same night, fueling her desire
to discover exactly what kind of footage was contained on
such a video tape. That, needless to say, involves more
trailing than Rachel initially anticipates, but when she
finally discovers the infamous video, she watches it without
a second thought, and quickly finds herself trapped in a
situation that, if not resolved in seven days, will leave
her pushing up daisies at the local cemetery.
In her race against time to solve the mystery behind "The
Ring" (and please don't expect me to specify what 'The
Ring' actually is), Rachel enlists the help of not only
her longtime friend and colleague Noah (Martin Henderson),
but also her young son Aidan (David Dorfman), who, like
the Hayley Joel Osment role in "The Sixth Sense"
and the little girl in "Stir of Echoes," seems
to have a gift for communicating with those in a different
plane of existence, although he really doesn't want anyone
to think so. Their involvement, however, depends on them
seeing the infamous video as well; in a short time, "The
Ring" then becomes less about one person's survival
and more about the mass protection of those who could fall
victim to such an ominous curse.
"The Ring" isn't the standard horror film by
any stretch; like the most significant stunners of the genre,
it transcends many basic rules and melds the basic concept
between three or four tones and techniques, none quite alike
and yet each never in conflict with the other.The film's
look, for instance, appears bleached out in necessary shots,
although the script isn't entirely written in that vein.
Sure, the basic sensation of psychological fright is present,
as is the occasional sudden jolt in the soundtrack and on
the screen, but there's also a lot of sorrow and drama laced
into the substance here, especially as the characters draw
closer to their deadline and uncover the tragic secrets
behind the legend. Some of the specifics don't quite gel
together, but Watts' delivery of Rachel makes a lot of the
questionable material bearable, as do her two costars Dorfman
and Henderson, who stare with deep eyes and speak with a
certain restraint of fear in their voices.
The screenplay, written by Ehren Krueger, is adapted from
a Japanese story called "Ringu," which has already
been made into a highly successful film in Japan. Krueger's
immediate difficulty with this kind of material is moving
the story to a native location without disrupting its original
motives, and although I am unfamiliar with the material,
the result doesn't seem like it is misinterpreting the source.
Her use of ordinary characters caught up in a modern myth
is written like it were a natural configuration, and the
direction by Gore Verbinski enlivens it all with visuals
that ever-so-subtlely embrace the basic virtues of North
American cinema. No, this isn't an obvious remake of a film
from a foreign market; this is an endeavor that searches,
and finds, its own powerful identity.
Going into "The Ring," many will probably expect
to see something along the lines of "Candyman,"
where the concept of urban legends is thrust into a gory
and violent direction unworthy of its source material. No
matter what your views on that particular film may be, a
movie like this is almost completely without comparison.
It's a distinctive, eerie, unsettling and suggestive film
on every cylinder. And for a film that contains few orthodox
horror elements, it's also damn good and what it does.