The Ring

The Ring movie still

Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox
Release details: Dreamworks SKG, USA 2002, 115mins
Full details: IMDb / view trailer (Quicktime)
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 10

Much was made at the time of release about The Ring being the best horror since The Exorcist. Let me dissuade you of that very notion right now. It's not. In fact, it's not even the best horror movie since Flatliners, of which it inexplicably reminded me. Possibly it's because the production design - the dream-like state, all those flourescent-lit rooms and the loft-style apartments the size of Canada - kept making me expect that freaky kid to jump out of the shadows in his hooded top with his hockey stick in hand and deliver a good battering to poor Naomi Watts. Of course, that would have been more fun than this film turned out to be.

The Ring is a decent-enough US remake of a cult Japanese film, but it's no classic by any stretch of the imagination. It's self-consciously stylish, like the graduate project of a film student who desperately wants to be David Lynch. And like much of Mr Lynch's work, it thinks it's a lot cleverer than it actually is. But at least David Lynch's films are original, as well as moving and thought-provoking. The only question The Ring left me asking was "is that it?"

What this movie does have going for it is an unsettling opening sequence - including the scariest moments in the whole movie - as teenage friends Katie (Amber Tamblyn, daughter of Russ) and Rebecca (Rachael Bella) discuss the video tape that Katie had watched with her boyfriend the previous weekend. Allegedly, everyone who watches it dies exactly seven days later. It's now the seventh day.

Following Katie's suspicious death, her young cousin Aidan (Dorfman) confides in his mother, journalist Rachel (Watts), that Katie had known when she was going to die. With the help of her ex-husband, Noah (Henderson), Rachel digs deeper to find out where the tape came from and why it has this lethal effect. Of course, Rachel is almost honour-bound by movie convention to end up in possession of the tape and watch it herself, thus making her investigation a race against time.

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It's not like me to criticise the style over substance approach, but, although it looks stunning (helped by the usual excellent work of make-up supremo Rick Baker), there's a curious feeling of over-styling. This leads to The Ring having an inflated sense of its own worth. Verbinski and Kruger seem so intent on avoiding Hollywood horror/thriller cliché that they tip too far the other way and dive headlong into pretension.

Those who would defend it, say that it's not a horror, it's a psychological thriller. Well, the best psychological thriller of all-time - in my opinion at least - is Psycho and at least Hitchcock understood that, if you build tension, you need at least three really great "jump" moments to release it.

The Ring is effective enough at building a sense of brooding malevolence, then it just lets it dissipate by having at least three endings too many, which explain about 300 earlier references in tedious detail, and yet still manage to leave a whole slew of loose ends (eg What's the deal with the horse? Who's on the phone?).

Watts does her best with the material she's been given, but she's swimming against the tide from the start. The main characters in the Keller family are so thinly sketched that it is hard to care whether they live or not. In fact, in the case of Martin Henderson, I'm not entirely sure there's a point to his character at all. After years of having token female roles, are we now seeing the start of a new trend: the superfluous boyfriend?

Of the supporting cast, there are fine performances from Brian Cox as the troubled father whose daughter is the key to the story and the local doctor, Jane Alexander, but the biggest disappointment is that more was not made of young Dorfman as the Keller's son. He's a genuinely talented and unforced child performer, with a wonderfully creepy presence, and there would have been more mileage in making him more integral to the story progression, rather than just using him as a plot device in the first third.

Dreamworks is currently (summer 2003) negotiating with Verbinski and Kruger to return for the sequel. Joy.

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