Directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Koji Suzuki and Ehren Kruger, 2002, 114 mins. Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Daveigh Chase, Shannon Cochran, Amber Tamblyn, and Rachael Bella.
So, then, here it is: finally, the much trumpeted American remake of Ringu. And on paper the signs aren't all that good. Directed by an unheralded director, screenwritten by the woman who did Stuart Little, the whole thing smells of tacky Hollwood cash-in. After all, the major studios have never been slow on the uptake on co-opting foreign hit movies and "adapting" them for US audiences. And by adapting I mean, sadly, seriously dumbing down. And the fears were that, sourced from an intelligent, thoughtful work by Hideo Nakata, the end result would be a teen slasher in the Jason vs Freddie mould.
Fortunately, The Ring isn't all that bad. It's sure as hell not Ringu, but then few films are. But what Verbinski has done is take the raw essentials of the Japanese original and re-jig them in a more mass-market (and much noisier, and less subtle) way, leaving much of the mythology of Sadako but reinterpreting it in a way that is perhaps clearer for an American audience.
In terms of structure, The Ring is broadly very similar to Ringu. Two teenagers, Becca and Katie, alone at home one night, discuss typical teenage concerns: boys, drugs, weird videotapes which cause you to die exactly a week after watching... Katie, in the Tomoko role, eventually confesses to having seen the tape a week previously with some of her friends in a lodge they were staying in. At ten exactly, the TV turns itself on, there's water all over the floor, and Becca finds Katie dead in a closet...
At Katie's funeral, her journalist aunt Rachel Keller (a somewhat overwrought Naomi Watts) is persuaded by Katie's mum to investigate what happened; how can a previously healthy sixteen year old girl suddenly die from heart failure? Equally, Rachel's precocious son Aidan is already displaying strange signs of obsession with Katie's death. It's stated that the two of them were very close, though clearly Verbinski wanted to hint that Aidan has some sort of psychic ability by the way, without being told, he singles out the TV in Katie's bedroom that was the last one to flicker on before she died. Rachel promises to investigate, and in Katie's room finds a roll of undeveloped film. This she has processed; they're photos Katie took at the lodge, and not only does this provide Rachel's first concrete lead, but the faces of Katie and her companions are all blurred. Equally, at the funeral, she finds out about a mythical videotape, which, a week after having seen, kills you. All Katie's friends at the lodge have died in mysterious circumstances too... So Rachel takes a trip to the lodge, and, in a most bizarre scene with an amateur magician of an owner, discovers that guests can choose videotapes from the lodge's collection to view in their rooms. She spots an unmarked tape, and, renting out the same cabin as Katie and her friends, borrows this tape and views it.
Of course, what she sees is a bizarre mish-mash of apparently unrelated images; a woman combing her hair, reflected in a round mirror; a horse dead on a beach; blood in some water; some chairs; a burning tree, a well in a copse... then the phone rings. "Seven days..." says the voice on the other end, and hangs up. Rachel of course doesn't know what to make of this, so consults Noah, a friendly video technician, photographer, artist, and, it transpires over the course of the film, Rachel's ex and Aidan's father. Rachel soon realises that her face is also blurred if photographed; she copies it for Noah, persuades him to see it, and he suggests taking it to a professional video specialist to view something in the corner of the screen which they couldn't quite see on Noah's equipment. In the meantime, Rachel goes to see Becca in a mental hospital; she was so disturbed by what she saw that night at Katie's house she's been there ever since. In a scene lifted straight from Ring 2, Becca walks down a corridor in the institution shielded by a screen so as not to see the TV. Becca promises "she" (whoever that is, of course...) will show Rachel what is going on, in four days time.
Examining the tape in more detail, Rachel sees not only a fly emerge from the screen and make infinity loops on the TV, but also sees a lighthouse right on the edge of the picture which she identifies as being on Moesko island; she also finds out there have been mysterious goings-on on the island involving one particular family, the Morgans: their horses have been dying, and the mother of the family, Anna, lost her life in strange circumstances. Rachel is now getting more scared; she's been having nosebleeds and has coughed up a medical electrode, complete with cord. She's also been grabbed by a figure of a girl in a chair, giving her a burn on her arm.
To her horror, one evening she discovers her cherished Aidan viewing the cursed tape, giving her yet more impetus to solve the puzzle. And off to Moesko island she heads (via an unsettling experience with a freaked out stallion on the ferry over there) while leaving Aidan to do more legwork. What will she find there? Who is the long haired little girl? And what's going on in that videotape?
It's fair to say that Gore Verbinski has stuck very closely to the source material. There are clear echoes of all the original movies in this remake (with the very clear exception of Rasen, the "forgotten" sequel), and, intriguingly, references to Hideo Nakata's other works too (see our visual comparison for more details). But what he's ended up with is a very stylish, intriguing movie that stands up to repeat viewings. And, in many ways, it opens up new areas of discussion, taking the Sadako myth yet further, clearing up some details but leaving yet more open. For example, just how did the Morgans give birth to Samara - it's hinted in the deleted scenes on the DVD that they went abroad in order to consult a doctor to make Anna pregnant. Ikuma, by any chance?
A key criticism of the movie is that it lacks the subtlety of the original. There's a couple of jump scenes which are just cheap, and which make you hate the movie for startling you for nothing. Equally, Naomi Watts lacks the emotional control of Matsushima Nanako (Reiko, the Rachel character in Ringu) and has an irritating habit of screaming for no apparent reason. At the same time David Dorfman just irritates in a nasty Sixth Sense type way, though it's a flaw of the screenplay that Aidan does not reveal crucial information about Samara to Rachel until it's far too late.
Visually, though, it's a tour de force. It's got far more flair than Ringu (as you'd expect, given the comparative budgets) and throughout has a murky yet washed-out grey-blue tint a little reminiscent of Uzumaki. The use of CGI is often imperceptible and, when noticeable, does not intrude. That said, there are some terrible visual bloopers in it that we'll probably put up as a separate page at some stage. Yet, despite its flashy visuals, the movie has little if any of the atmosphere of Ringu. While that movie slowly and quietly built up an overwhelming sense of dread as the plot developed, The Ring seems to lurch from set-piece to set-piece with the remaining scenes little more than necessary exposition. But never mind, you'll get a good scare in the next ten minutes or so! It's as if it were designed for people with low attention spans, and certainly in the middle section lacks a good deal of plausibility.
So, then, a decent addition to the series, but not an essential one. It'll be interesting how they extend the plotline in the (inevitable) sequel, due October 2004, in which a brand new story will be portrayed...
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Shock Factor: 11/10 - bang! crash! goes the filing cabinet, and a roomful of people bounce off the cinema ceiling. NB - filing is not scary, Mr Verbinski.
Scary Children: two, if you count Aidan - and we do
Naomi Watts Nipple Count: 2, in the well - we wasn't looking, honest ;-)
Outcome of a Sadako vs Samara Celebrity Deathmatch: Sadako, by one fall and a submission
Litres of Pond Slime: the entire contents of the Kennet and Avon Canal
*** Recommended ***
The Ring Wallpaper
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002
You can find links to all the Ring cycle movies on the Ring Cycle main page.