"Why did you do that?"
If there is one question, or variations of a question, that are repeated over and again, in THE RING, its the one above. Questions can take all forms, but this one pervades the whole movie. Someone, in their innocence, has done something: the consequences of which were unforseen and terrible. Every time it happens, the person questioned saw no harm in their actions. The harm comes with subsequent revelation.
THE RING is based upon, and adheres pretty well to, RINGU; the wildly popular Horror movie made in Japan based on the popular short story collection by Kôji Suzuki. Its first incarnation was as the television movie, RINGU: Kanzen-ban in 1995. So popular was the TV show that it was remade as the theatrical release in 1998 and the sequel, RINGU 2 the same year. So popular was THAT, that two more sequels, and a series of manga comic books were spawned. With a popularity in Asia that is, to Horror fans, what Star Wars is to SF and Adventure fans, Hollywood took notice and eventually decided to remake the movie for round-eyed audiences.
RINGU was directed by Hideo Nakata who, propelled by its success, went on to make RINGU 2 in the same year and got lost almost from the start. The problem wasn't that he didn't have a good screenwriter, he did. Hiroshi Takahashi wrote the original theatrical screenplay and had worked with Hideo before. The problem? Subject to debate (and oh HOW it is debated). The movie wasn't bad, but it could have been better. The second sequel was made for television and the third sequel, RINGU 0: Baasudei, is actually a prequel, and thus fleshes out the first and answers a few more questions.
While none of this is necessary for watching the movie, its important to give credit where credit is due regarding a review. Based on the success of the American version of THE RING, more sequels are not only expected to follow, but must follow in order to tell the full story.
Its important to keep this in mind because the biggest complaint I've heard about this movie is the less than satisfactory end. In fact, THE RING is the beginning of a story arc.
The movie starts out before the opening credits even run. It begins with the logo of the movie company, Dreamworks. As we watch the familiar crescent moon opening with the boy fishing from the company logo amidst the clouds, a noise and video interference disrupts the image. The story line of the film has already begun.
Dreamworks could have hired a cheapo director and a cheapo writer with a lousy track record and then blamed the source material or the target audience (anyone but themselves) like has been done numerous times before (with movies like MYSTERY MEN).
Instead they hired Gore Verbinski, who won numerous awards for the visual appeal of his television commercials and box office and critical nods for his handful of theatrical releases. This is important because, far more than dialogue, visual and extraneous audio tell a large part of this story. To that end, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (SCREAM 3, THE IMPOSTOR) also an award winning screenwriter, was brought aboard to re-tell the story. Both director and writer were trying to bounce back from some serious setbacks. For Gore, it was the all star flop, The Mexican. For Ehren, it was the all star flop, THE IMPOSTOR. Both could do far better. Both HAD done far better.
The great thing about THE RING is that Gore Verbinski and Ehren Kruger were able to aptly translate Suzuki's story for American audiences and make it relevant to a Western world.
I liked THE RING a lot, and this is why.
From the very beginning to the very end, THE RING tells the story, and I'm talking the very second the movie starts. This is a tale with a lot of atmosphere, no car chases, and no explosions. Gore (Great name for a Horror movie director - no lie!) wants to slowly bring you in, drawing you ever closer to the edge of your seat. Also, the casting by Denise Chamian (PLANET OF THE APES , MINORITY REPORT), like all of her work, was truly inspired. Nearly all the actors present have shone like great stars in previous movies, yet have never really broke into glitzy "Celebrity Status". This is all for the good, as we see the characters they portray and not the illusion of their celebrity in every frame.
Finally? The movie has some genuine scares and even those who feel jaded from watching too many horror movies, come away feeling a little discomfited by THE RING. The movie courses through the story in a manner that Western audiences, raised on large insipid doses of FRIDAY THE 13th, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels, and HALLOWEEN sequels, have rarely experienced. This isn't slam-bang. This is a slow, ever building nightmare, with each minute just a little more uncomfortable than the last, until it hits you with its twisted ending.
Like the original RINGU, THE RING starts with two teenage girls, talking about an urban legend.
The bored Becca (Rachael Bella: THE DEVIL'S CHILD [TV]), who finds nothing worth watching on TV (HA! An irony!), decides to liven up a drab evening by telling her friend Katie (Amber Tamblyn: Twilight Zone [TV 2002]) about a video tape that has some weird images on it. And after you see it, the telephone rings. A voice on the other end whispers "You saw it." Then you die in seven days.
This freaks out Katie far more than Becca anticipated. Because Katie and her secret boyfriend had both watched a movie like that the week before when they snuck off to a cabin in the woods with some other friends, doing what underage horny teenagers do (in this case, watch TV apparently. I bet their uptight parents have some wilder stories! I know I sure do. Not that I'm saying YOU should do that. Sigh ... Things were different in my day...). They got bored (Bored? In a cabin in the woods alone together?) and watched this video tape - and the very thing that Becca described happened to them. And this: this is the seventh day!
Merry Mishaps Ensue.
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts: CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: The Gathering, DOWN, MULHOLLAND DR.) is a rebellious reporter and like all movie rebellious reporters, she has conflicts with her editor and is on the verge of losing her job. After the death of her niece, Rachel's sister (Katie's mother - keep up here) tearfully begs her to use her reporter's instincts and find out why. "My little girl was only 16, and all they tell me at the hospital is that her heart just stopped? I saw her!"
In short order, Rachel, knowing that teens often keep secrets from adults, finds a group of Katie's school chums at her wake. She eavesdrops and hears them talking about the tape. They aren't sure whether or not to believe it, but the fact remains that Katie's boyfriend is also dead of mysterious causes.
Rachel is soon on the trail of the mystery. Going to the cabin, she finds an unmarked videotape and watches it: damned if the phone doesn't ring and a voice whispers, "Seven days. "
From then on, the movie counts down the days. Rachel, starting with disbelief, slowly becomes a believer. As the weirdness in her life begins to build and jeopardizes the safety of her son, Aidan (a spooky eyed David Dorfman), she calls on her ex, Noah (Martin Henderson) to help her figure things out. Rachel's investigation tries to find logical, rational explanations for the tape, the myth, and her own increasingly bizarre experiences. But every time she tries for the rational, she gets the irrational and terrifying.
To be sure, a number of people in the audience shrieked and screamed during the film, and Director Gore Verbinski, to his credit, never once went for the cheap scare. Instead there are many scenes in this film that were forewarned, but still unexpected. Actor Brian Cox (MANHUNTER ), has a small role in this movie but plays it with his usual high standards. Jane Alexander (TESTAMENT) is also here and plays the stony yet fragile Dr. Grasnik with remarkable understatement.
What I've said nothing about is the actual mystery itself, or the characters involved. I do this because they are a discovery best experienced. I will tell you this. For once, FOR ONCE, the cliché of "the hand on the shoulder" is presented in a unique and believable way. This is one time it actually gives you the willies. Moreover, the very nature of this story lends itself to a sort of myopic wandering if a Director isn't careful. Fortunately, Verbinski was up to the task: providing stunning visual imagery to maintain interest while never letting the film meander. Writing, direction, acting, editing, and special effects, are all tight.
On the other hand...
The last ten minutes of the film, last minute bits for the potential sequel, are surreal and twisted. Too abrupt for some people's tastes, including my own. Just keep in mind that THE RING is the beginning of the tale, not the end of it, and now that the movie broke the $100 million dollar mark at the box office, the sequel, and growth of the myth and full horror of THE RING, will be explored.
But that's almost like making an excuse for the movie, because...
For a fact, the ending was not to my liking; and though the intent was to leave the door open for the continuation of the series, it could have been handled better.
RINGU had pretty much the same ending but in a way that completed the first story, instead of preparing for a sequel. One shriek girl off for that. A movie needs to be complete, or at least forewarn the audience that more is to come, like THE LORD OF THE RINGS: The Fellowship Of The Ring. With THE RING, the producers were not going to commit to making more unless the first one was popular. Fine. They should have ended it that way. But they didn't. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The movie would have been better if those last addendum minutes were removed. As made, they are actually the start of the second movie, and have no business with the first.
"No epilogue, I pray you, for your play needs no excuse."
Unfortunately, the producers of the U.S. version are already asking themselves, "What do we do now?"
THE RING is truly creepy scary. Even the people I know who claim to dislike it, are still talking about it. Like the original Japanese movie, there is something about this tale, the way it starts out with common themes and characters we've seen dozens of times before, and slowly weaves them into a tale like nothing we've ever known, is hypnotic.
I give it 4 Shriek Girls.
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