The Ring (2002) – Film & DVD Review
This competent but frankly uninspired horror film became a blockbuster hit when it was released in 2002, earning over $100-million at the box office. A remake of the 1998 Japanese masterpiece RINGU, the American version retains much of the original but does little to justify its existence beyond the commercial considerations of relocating the setting to Seattle and filling the screen with Caucasian faces. That said, THE RING is an adequate thriller for viewers who like their movies in English only, even if fans of the Japanese film will find little to make the new version worth their while.
The story sticks fairly close to the original: Rachel, a reporter (Naomi Watts), tries to find out the truth behind the unexplained deaths of her niece and several school mates, who had seen a mysterious video a week before their demise. The reporter tracks down a copy of the video and views it herself; then the phone rings and a ghostly voice tells her she has only “seven days” to live. Tracking down clues in the tape, Rachel eventually unearths the murder of a psychic girl named Samara, whose vengeful spirit seeks retribution through the videotape. And the only way to avoid becoming the next victim is to make a copy of the tape and show it to someone else.
The screenplay by Ehren Kruger tries to enhance the story by spelling out all the mysterious details in a rather prosaic way. The “Ring” of the title, in the original film, referred either to the sound of the telephone announcing that the countdown to death has begun, or to the cyclical nature of the phenomenon, with the revelation that each new victim can only save himself be dragging another victim into the circle of fear. In Kruger’s script, however, the ring is, literally, a circle, a visual motif seen through the film, which is supposed to represent the dying Samara’s last glimpse of sunlight while looking up from the bottom of a well. It’s not bad exactly, but it’s rather as if someone decided to remake A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and decided the film really needed a prop fruit with mechanical parts.
In this film, both Noah (the reporter’s estranged boyfriend) and Samara’s mother have lost their psychic abilities. Presumably this was to make the film feel more “realistic;” unfortunately, the effect is to undermine much of the supernatural feel that made the first film interesting. The change also hurts the Noah character, transforming him from an able colleague in solving the mystery into a standard skeptic character, weighing down the action instead of moving it forward.
Also the possible non-human origins of the Sadako character (here called Samara) have been eliminated. The film rather risibly seems to fall back on the old cliché of equating evil with foreign-ness: Richard and Anna Morgan obtained Samara (apparently via adoption) during a trip to Europe. (This plot point is obscured when the camera briefly glimpses some kind of medical document regarding Samara’s birth, implying that she may not have been adopted after all. In a missing scene shown as a bonus on the DVD, the idea is clarified: Samara is bad because her birth was “against nature”; that is, Anna Morgan managed to give birth thanks to some kind of unspecified medical intervention.).
The script also gooses up the action with additional shocks, instead of relying totally on the steady build-up to a terrifying conclusion. For example, Samara’s father is still alive in this version, but he doesn’t reveal anything useful; instead, he seems to have been preserved so that he can conveniently kill himself in front of Watts’ reporter—by electrocuting himself in a bathtub. There is also a reasonably effective scene of a horse breaking loose, jumping off a ship, and being sucked beneath the wake (presumably to be dismembered by the propeller, off screen). Again, it adds a jolt for viewers who might get bored otherwise, but it doesn’t add much to the story.
These script decisions are of perhaps relatively small significance—attempts to translate the story for an American audience, they are hardly enough to undermine the film’s effectiveness. Most of the weakness actually resides in the execution by director Gore Verbinski, who lacks Hideo Nakata’s ability to convey dread in every single shot—even when nothing dreadful is happening at the moment. (Verbinski did a much better job with the swashbuckling supernatural antics of PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN; maybe serious spooks just aren’t his thing.)
On the plus side, there are some good Rick Baker make-ups used to convey the corpses of the Samara’s victims; shown in brief flashes, the impact is amazing, enhancing scenes that were handled much more simply in the original. On the other hand, the new version of the “killer video” is not as genuinely creepy as it should be. It’s not bad, but nor is it disturbing.
Most crucially, THE RING falls down in its portrayal of Samara. The Sadako character (Rie Inou) in RINGU was terrifying because she was so enigmatic: briefly glimpsed in flashbacks and film clips, she was a mute presence made unnervingly threatening by the fact that her features were always hidden behind her long black hair, which was combed forward over her face. In THE RING, Daveigh Chase (her character renamed Samara) is seen quite clearly, and she speaks, destroying the mystery. The film attempts to use her brief screen time to turn the character into a recognizable horror icon, but Chase comes across like a runner-up at a Christina Ricci look-alike contest (circa THE ADDAMS FAMILY), and her attempts to be threatening falls flat. And having already revealed her face before her climactic return from the grave, there is nothing left for the film to do but try to make her look frightening by putting her into another one of Baker’s corpse make-ups. Sadly, the terror generated by Sadako’s wide, staring eye peeking out from her strands of black hair is nowhere nearly matched by the cool-looking ghoul make up.
Overall, despite faithfulness to its source material, THE RING lacks the sense of impending dread the seeped out of every frame of RINGU, and the ending fails to deliver the profound sense of a growing evil unleashed upon and spreading into the world at large. This flash of moral horror—of saving oneself by exposing others to the Ring Virus—gave RINGU a memorably disturbing kick in its final scene that made the film feel complete, not just open-ended for the sake of a potential sequel. (Interestingly, the sequel that followed, THE RING TWO, was directed by Hideo Nakata, who had directed RINGU and RINGU 2 in Japan.)
The DVD contains a montage of missing scenes intercut with flashes of the killer video. Most of these are fairly extraneous, and make you realize that this disappointing film could have been much worse. The exception is a sequence with Rachel interviewing some locals on the island where Samara lived, which clarifies some plots points left vague in the final cut.
This missing scenes do not include footage of Chris Mulkey that was reportedly shot, with the actor portraying a convicted child molester who asks Rachel to write an article exonerating him. Allegedly, this was set-up to pay-off with Rachel delivering the cursed videotape to him at the end.
There is also an Easter Egg feature that allows you to watch the “killer video.” Amusingly, once you start, you cannot regain control of your player until the video finishes and returns to the main menu – followed by the sound of a telephone ring, as if Samara is calling you!
THE RING(2002). Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, based upon the novel by Koji Suzuki and the film written by Hiroshi Takahashi and directed by Hideo Nakata. Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost.