MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Supernatural Mystery-Horror/Stars: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Martin Henderson, Daveigh Chase, Brian Cox, Shannon Cochran, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost, Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella, Richard Lineback, Pauley Perrette, Sara Rue, Sasha Barrese, Tess Hall, Adam Brody, Michael Spound, Chris Cooper, Joe Chrest, Maury Ginsberg/Runtime: 115 minutes
I think it is safe to say that, much in the same vein, as a lot of other slices of horror cinema, the 2002 horror film that is The Ring very much resembles what can best be described as a cinematic con game in how, despite not really being tricked by its intentions, we still take a stab at the line that has been baited for us all the same. At the same time, the line that this slice of cinema’s creative team have put before us is one that leads us into more immersive and bleak waters than perhaps you might be anticipating. Indeed what starts out as a run of the mill teen horror film about an urban legend blown horrifically out of proportion eventually takes a turn to reveal itself as one of the most chilling kinds of bad dreams possible. With that kind of description in mind, I guess it should come as no surprise to learn that going to sleep the night I rewatched this slice of cinema was a wee bit problematic to say the least. This is because at about 2:30 AM I found myself still lying wide awake due to being thoroughly fixated by a pair of instances that occur at some point in the film. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema is one that yes is bleak and murky whilst also borrowing ingredients from such properties as the original Nightmare on Elm Street, The Sixth Sense, and Poltergeist to name a few influences. At the same time however, this wonderfully constructed on both sides of the camera slice of cinema is thankfully also its own wonderfully wicked little entity that, should you let it, will not only take up residence in your body and never leave no matter how much you may want it to, but most assuredly leave you with something to think about when at long last the nightmare concludes and the credits begin to roll….
The plot is as follows: So rumor has it that there is somewhere in the world that there is an old VHS tape that will kill you if you watch it (and no it’s not by the painful process of having to rewind it). Actually for this tape all you have to do is slide it in, kick back, and watch as you witness insects, a foreboding well, and an enigmatic yet creepy person among other things come on screen in a series of images. From there it isn’t long before your phone rings and when you answer it someone proceeds to tell you that you only have a week to live. Suffice it to say that when our story opens proper we see that an investigative journalist by the name of Rachel and her son Aidan are in the midst of mourning the loss of Aidan’s cousin, Katie who has died under very mysterious circumstances even if the word amongst her friends is that she and several others were supposed the latest victims of this enigmatic video tape. As a result we see Rachel, per the request of Katie’s mom, decide to open her own investigation into these mysterious deaths which see her go to where Katie allegedly viewed this tape. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that not only does Rachel find the tape, but she also views it and of course she also gets the creepy phone call leaving her in quite a predicament. Thus we see Rachel recruit her ex-boyfriend, and her son’s dad, Noah in helping get to the bottom of this mystery even if doing so is going to lead them to some very dark places by the time all is said and done….
It may have been going on 2 solid decades since it first came to theaters, but this is one slice of cinema that still manages to send a shiver or ten down people’s spines. In fact when I was in the process of revisiting this slice of cinema for this review, I was honestly hoping for my friends to want to join me in a movie viewing party. Of course, it should also come as no surprise to learn that absolutely none of them accepted my invite. Apparently for those who had already seen the blasted thing, seeing it the one time was more than enough for them. As a result, I wound up having to deal with this slice of cinema and had to watch it from beginning to end, in the dark, and all on my own (thanks guys). I can’t say that it really made me spill my popcorn or that it affected me on the level that it did when my dad took me to see this the first time in theaters all those years ago, but I can confirm that this film did still manage to make my spine tingle and my heart race a fair degree. I guess a chunk of why this slice of cinema is so potent is because of the work done by Gore Verbinski at the helm. Indeed he might be best known for his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean series or on 2011’s Rango, Verbinski does some really good work on this spook-fest. Indeed with the aid of terrific edit work by Craig Wood, Verbinski shows he is a natural at both raising a level of suspense whilst also making a viewer completely in fear of either being at home by themselves or in viewing a scary movie on their own. Suffice it to say that a large portion of what it takes to make a legitimately good entry in the realm of horror deals primarily with how the director utilizes the camera to play with what we expect to happen whilst also making us very much aware of our environment. Suffice it to say that this is one film that does phenomenally well. For proof of this look no further than the opening of the film. Indeed shortly after setting up the main narrative hook for this slice of cinema, which is brilliantly presented as an urban myth of sorts, this film’s helmer and head cinematographer do a creative job both in terms of framing the shots and with how they utilize a variety of camera angles. Indeed some of the better shots are when the pair of characters we are following make their way to the camera to be seen close up. Indeed by being followed with purposeful moments of absolute silence, we see our perspective is being intentionally messed with so we become aware of the empty area surrounding the characters thus putting our spines on alert and raising the tension pretty heavily. Of course, it should be said that this is not even close to being either novel or revolutionary in any way. At the same time though, it should also be said that these techniques are used to phenomenal effect by the crew at giving this slice of cinema a truly spine-tingling atmosphere from beginning to end. That and when you have a terrific script that helps this slice of cinema operate more like a mystery thriller rather than a straight up supernatural fright a minute horror film what you get is a distinct and novel entry in the realm of horror cinema.
At the same time however, it should be noted that this slice of cinema is not one that I would refer to as a straight up Horror film. Indeed to refer to it as such would not only be misleading, but it would also make you expect it to fulfill a specific list of expectations. Therefore, I will make it clear right now that if anything this slice of cinema is a Mystery-Thriller operating with some Horror components. Indeed no matter what the marketing may have you think, this slice of cinema is not about scaring as it is enthralling you and actually making you think. This is because, unlike other entries in the realm of horror, this one actually eliminates the protective barrier of seeing the evil occur on the screen and makes it possible for just watching it to be harmful to the viewers in this film. Indeed Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees may never be able to come out of your TV and into the real world (at least I hope not), but the contents of this film’s tape will still be able to eliminate you no matter what. Suffice it to say then that based off its narrative this film is able to function immensely well which is good since the middle of this film does get a little bit complicated before walking us smack dab into a conclusion that is the best mix of intriguing yet also terrifying imaginable especially in how it deals with the circle of life in a manner of speaking
Suffice it to say, and in case it wasn’t obvious, this slice of cinema is the type of film that will injure you more on a psychological level than a physical one (that is unless you trip on some furniture in the dark). By that I mean, you won’t be fearing for yourself, but rather you will be terrified for the characters and extremely anxious because you have not only no idea where this narrative plans to take you, but you also don’t know how it plans to take you and the characters there nor do you know what will happen once it gets to its intended destination. Suffice it to say that Verbinski chooses to concentrate on the more intellectual side of that equation courtesy of not only doing away with a lot of the typical trappings for this particular genre, but also in constructing a fairly solid narrative to help keep audiences hooked instead of utilizing false terror to keep them engaged. I also really appreciated how the homicidal tape is a brilliant blend of intriguing, eerie, and disturbing all rolled into one since I could easily see how this is one film that would be very difficult to tear your eyes from even if no less than your life was hanging in the balance. Best of all however is how Verbinski manages to brilliantly insert the tape into the narrative even if as the contents of the tape aren’t nearly as important as other aspects involving the tape. Finally, I also feel it must be said that the work from the cast assembled in front of the camera is fairly well done. Indeed in the lead role, Naomi Watts does a wonderful job of playing the heroine who is both curious yet also slowly but surely terrified by what she discovers while trying to uncover this mystery. Yet perhaps the best thing Watts manages to do with the character is give her a refreshing degree of integrity in terms of her level of fear. Indeed the character of Rachel is not inept and helpless by any means and, unlike the vast majority of characters in horror cinema, actually tries to keep herself from dying rather than doing a series of stupid decisions that ultimately result in death. I also felt the young man who played her kid in this was also effective even though in many respects I completely understand how so many will see him and just see another version of the character Haley Joel Osment perfected in The Sixth Sense. I also really loved the 25th hour work done in this by phenomenal actor Brian Cox as a man who may know more about the tape and its contents than he is saying as well as Daveigh Chase who is chilling in her limited screen time as a young person who also has ties to the tape that are best left unsaid. Suffice it to say the actors in this do a great job at not only acting like actual people, but at taking the audience by the hand and walking through this nightmare with them.
All in all the 2002 American take on The Ring is one that excels at cutting out the proverbial safety net that horror cinema often tends to put in place for its viewers and instead chooses to hurl the viewer head first down a very deep and very bleak hole that takes them down avenues that American horror cinema rarely had at that time thought to go before. Indeed the core narrative hook of a VHS tape that kills everyone who watches it is most assuredly the kind of thing that will make every person who wishes to watch it stop for a moment if for no other reason to think that proverbial question of “what if?” Thankfully, the rest of this slice of cinema is very well done even if the narrative at times is a bit more complicated than it really needs to be. Indeed not only is this slice of cinema in possession of one of the more intriguing and thought-provoking conclusions of the past two decades, but the helmsmanship is solid, the rest of the work done behind the camera on-point, the performances from the cast better than expected which when combined manage to give us a wonderful example of a slice of cinema in the Horror and Mystery genres that actually requires you to think for once. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Ring “02” a solid 3.5 out of 5.