Review: The Ring

The original Japanese film of the same name is widely considered one of the scariest East Asian horror films ever made. How does the American remake stand up?

Directed by: Gore Verbinski | Written by: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Daveigh Chase, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost, Amber Tamblyn
Released: 2002 / Genre: Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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The Hollywood idea machine may have breathed its last breath a few years ago, but that hasn’t stopped the money hungry execs busting a gut to find their next investment. In the past ten years they seem to be finding solace in the nearest comic book and obscure but interesting East Asian horror films. One such creation is a remake of the Japanese horror film Ring. It tells the story of a mysterious video tape that kills the viewer seven days after they watch it.

When journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) finds out about the death of her niece, the girl’s mother asks her to investigate her daughter’s strange death. Beginning to piece together the puzzle, it becomes apparent that her niece viewed the mystery video exactly seven days prior to her death, and that the three people she was with also died on the same day. Tracking the tape to a lodge in the middle of nowhere, Keller views its contents and immediately after receives a phone call telling her she’s got seven days to live. Now she must hunt down the video’s maker until death comes a calling for her too.

the ring, horror film, japanese remake,

The Ring is slick, stylised 21st century horror that works a treat. Director Gore Verbinski and writer Ehren Kruger do an excellent job adapting the film for a western audience. Verbinski’s atmospheric photography is tinged in greys and cold blues, drowning the film in a foreboding, unsettling sense of impending doom. While Kruger hasn’t totally lost his Kevin Williamson inherited penchant for teens in a horror movie spouting off their angst about adolescent minds fuelled by the media of today (as was the prescribed medicine in his screenplay for Scream 3), he gets it out of his system early on then hits us with an eerie little opening that sets up the film superbly. The first ten or so minutes are terrific suspense, not unlike Scream or Candyman.

Verbinski plays with his audience’s knowledge of convention by setting up the jump-out-of-your-seat moment then denying it to prolong the tension. To his credit he also maintains the original’s ability to nestle itself under your skin, with some horrifyingly surreal shots that will linger afterward. For instance, the murderous videotape – which is a sort of David Lynch meets Sergie Eisenstein concoction of hastily edited, surreal images – is superbly realised.

One of the most interesting things about this film, and one of the major reasons why What Lies Beneath and Stir Of Echoes worked so well, is through the way the main character has to piece together the puzzle, each little piece providing that extra sliver of information as we get closer to the truth. Here, Naomi Watts, fresh from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., carries the film with assurance, and her journalistic investigation, like Virginia Madsen’s in Candyman, is an interesting approach. The rest of the cast do a good enough job, with Brian Cox standing out in his small role. The little kid David Dorfman, who will remind some of the Devil-boy in The Omen, proves that when ten-year-old children speak very s…l…o…w…l…y, or not at all, it can be exceedingly creepy indeed.

ring, naomi watts, amber tamblyn,

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But The Ring isn’t perfect. The opening, although suitably tense and well-executed, suffers in retrospect from confused plot logic. Rachel’s macabre investigation also suffers pacing issues when Verbinski wallows for too long awaiting a cheap shock. The sequence on a boat when a horse gets loose from its carriage and runs rampage feels like a tacked-on action sequence as if the audience needed a jolt during a supposed lull in the mystery.

But ultimately The Ring is an enjoyable horror film that manages to get under your skin. Every now and again it nips the back of your neck just to let you know that not everything is alright and anything could happen right up until the terrifying climax.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. ruth Reply

    That kid does remind me of Damien when I saw the trailer, there is no way I have the guts to see this one, let alone the Japanese version. Yeah, not even the hunky Martin Henderson would sway me to see it, well unless he’s actually watching it with me in person, ahah.

  2. max Reply

    This is one of my favorite horror films, if only because it can get under your skin without nearly any gore. I’m doing a great disservice by never watching the original, but I was satisfied with this.

  3. DEZMOND Reply

    I remember hearing lots of hype around the movie before it premiered,but when I watched it, it was just meh for me. It probably has to do with Naomi Watts who always gives expressionless, bland and rather uninspired performances.
    And as most of you know, I really do not support the use of kids in horrors. As a psychologist and a teacher, I don’t understand parents who would put their kid in such a movie.

  4. amy Reply

    I always thought RINGU’s supposedly scary faces were… well, kinda funny. Must be a culture thing xD but The Ring freaked me out a tiny more… even if it made less sense than the original~~~ I haven’t watched the sequels to either, though.

  5. Thomas Reply

    I did like the Japanese version well enough, even though I cannot understand the hype about it – a regular horror thriller that works mostly on the level of psychology, the feeling of threat it conjures is much more important than the actual events you see on screen. It is also oddly messy, however, and it seems from this and other reviews that the remake does not improve on the mess, just streamlines a bit of the production design for supposedly easier consumption by Western audiences. I think I will stay with the original and skip this one…

  6. Rodney Reply

    What Lies Beneath didn’t work as well as it could have Dan, because it gave the game away waaaay to early (in my humble opinion). Stir Of Echoes was an incredibly well made scare-film, and I don’t think Kevin Bacon’s been much better than he was in that (although I think he was pretty darn good in Mystic River).

    I think the original Japanese Ringu was a superior film in almost every respect – the lower budget than The Ring, the non-Western setting and the creepy psuedo-Asian horror vibe ensured that Ringu, and the sequel are the premminent horror films to come out of Asia in the last two decades. Ringu 0, a prequel, isn’t as sharply produced, and seems to coast by on the fact that it’s gor “ring” in the title.

    I enjoyed Naomi Watts in this, and the ghost-in-the-tv effect (especially where she crawls out of the screen) is effectively done here (thanks to a better visual effects budget) but this is one of those occasions where I wish Hollywood would just stop making films for people who don’t like to read subtitles.

  7. Rodney Reply

    Re Dezmond’s comment about kids in films like these – anybody remember the stories about Linda Blair being totally screwed up later in life as a result of being in The Exorcist?

  8. Jaccstev Reply

    A great one, Dan! I also think that it’s an enjoyable horror film that manages to get under your skin though the ending can’t reach the same effect as the original one.

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