October 18, 2002 (U.S.)
Koji Suzuki (novel "Ringu") and Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller
Martin Henderson as Noah Clay
David Dorfman as Aidan Keller
Brian Cox as Richard Morgan
Daveigh Chase as Samara Morgan
Horror is an interesting genre when taken on the whole. It has a tendency to generally function in bursts of certain kinds of films. The slasher had its heyday, the monster movie, the teen horror film, etc. But in 2002, an American remake of an Asian horror phenomenon (Ringu) would hit the screen. It would go on to become the highest grossing horror remake to date, nearly tripling its production budget at the box office and selling 2 million copies of its DVD in its first 24 hours of release. And lo… Hollywood decreed that if one Asian remake made money than others should follow… and then remakes of earlier American horror films… But wait. There’s a reason The Ringperformed so well that shouldn’t be forgotten. Even in the market saturation we’re in now, it’s still a deeply creepy, very chilling, well-done film in its own right, remake or not.
The Ring is the story of Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her investigation into the mysterious death of her niece, Katie (Amber Tamblyn). Through a bit of legwork, she discovers that Katie had snuck away with her friends to a cabin a week before her death and had watched a video with her friends. 7 days later, all four of them were dead at the exact same time they watched the video. This leads her to the same cabin where the kids watched the video. She watches the tape herself, bearing witness to a disturbing chain of black-and-white imagery. Shortly afterwards, like the teens before her, she receives a whispered phone call telling her she will die in 7 days. As the film continues both her friend Noah (Martin Henderson) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman) also see the film and fall under the same curse.
The rest of the film is basically a dark supernatural detective story as Rachel attempts to follow the clues hidden in the video in order to find out what is behind the mysterious tape, all the while experiencing strange occurrences related to the tape and the curse. (I could understand someone not wanting to drink a glass of water for a bit after watching this film for instance). Can they solve the mysteries of the tape or will they all become more victims of its evil?
Atmosphere is a key factor in creating the experience that is The Ring. Almost every scene is shot in a washed-out, drab style that casts an effective pall of fear, dread, and foreboding over the entire film. Inserted shots of “The Ring” as “the last thing you see” tend to create in the viewer a feeling that you’re not actually watching the movie but rather the tape itself made into a feature film. Other details such as the “D” in the Dreamworks logo flashing the ring for a second; the ring itself appearing for a frame or two like a cigarette burn film marker and the DVD FBI warning having the same staticky quality of the tape add to the overall experience. These elements were so subliminally stuck in that I kept thinking I was seeing glitches in the DVD and needed to rewind to see if they were really there or in my imagination.
This film will last because of the outstanding acting by almost every performer (with the exception of the FAR too reigned in Henderson). Naomi Watts’s performance would turn out to be a career maker, leading her to roles both in and out of the genre in the years to follow. The intensity and perseverance her reporter character shows in hunting out the truth fit the film perfectly. The supporting cast is also fantastic, the best of which being Brian Cox as the “knows-more than-he-lets-on” father, Richard Morgan. The way his character swings from simple rancher to disturbed man with a death wish is one of the most memorable moments in the film.
Nothing, however, has brought The Ring as much praise and criticism as its child stars, the previously mentioned Dorfman as Aiden and Daveigh Chase as Samara. Chase is terrifying both in and out of makeup and has become of the more memorable recent horror villains. Dorfman, on the other hand, has been alternately praised for his performance and criticized as a rip-off of Haley Joel Osment’s performance as the “creepy kid” in The Sixth Sense. Dismissing him as a simple copy of Osment, though, is a great injustice to an outstanding performance. Where Osment tends to be creepy because of the events around him, Dorfman is disturbing as a whole and on his own. His character seems to be wiser and more mature than all the adults in the film, a fact that makes his role deeply unsettling when coupled with his small physical size. The delivery of his lines almost makes one think he could have portrayed the villain in the film just as easily as a hero/victim. At one point, Dorfman is putting on a suit in the mirror and the fact that that such a simple mundane act is actually HIGHLY creepy in his hands stands as a testament to the quality of his work in this film.
Like other films that initiated genre shifts (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream all come to mind), The Ring deserves to be remembered independent of the chain of remakes and Asian horror repackagings it has spawned. It’s a dark, supernatural horror-mystery whose impact will be remembered for a good while.