The Ring (minor spoilers)

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Cleolinda: ***1/2

Trailers (yours may vary): Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; Darkness Falls; Catch Me If You Can

Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.


That statement probably deserves a few qualifiers. I've seen my share of movies, and perhaps then some. I prefer creepy, spooky, dread-full movies over slasher types. Slasher-franchise movies are fine; however, like submarine movies, they are not to my taste. The only movie that has scared me nearly this bad was
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I saw as a handful of clips in this documentary American Nightmare (basically, they showed the money shots, the "high points," if you will), and it freaked me out so bad that I was glad I was spared the rest of it. It's not so much that I'm "easily scared" as it is that... well, I'm a writer. I get paid (when I'm lucky) to be imaginative. (Did I mention that all of my friends and family chickened out and I had to see this movie, of all movies, by myself?)

You wanna know why this movie is so damn scary? Two reasons: Number one, the movie takes place entirely in the realm of possibility. Well, I mean, yes, the whole "cursed tape" thing is supernatural, blah blah blah, but the
effects of the tape, the circumstances of the victims, are entirely mundane. I mean, how many times have you tried to tape something, only you messed up somehow, and something else ended up on the tape? How many unmarked tapes do you have lying around your house with something on them, only you can't remember what? How many times have you been home alone and heard things, or thought you heard things, and it's storming, and then maybe the TV fritzes out...?

The reason all this is so scary is because you see it all up on the screen and recognize your own normal, daily life in the details; you can immediately empathize with the characters, and furthermore--and this is the kicker--when you leave the theater, you're going to remember everything you saw, involuntarily, at inopportune moments. Things I will now be afraid of for a couple of weeks: Wet rings left by coffee cups. Trees with red leaves (oh, yay, fall's here!). Glasses of water. Anything getting caught in my throat. Centipedes. Flies. Wells. Ladders. Chairs. Closets. Bathtubs. Mirrors. Hair. I think you see where I'm going with this. Hell, I'm thinking about unplugging my TV and covering it with a blanket for a few days.

Reason number two--and this has to do more with the filmmaking itself: There are some truly, truly gruesome moments in this movie. Almost none of them involve blood. (The horse thing--yeah, churning red water. That's not fun, but not explicit, either. Nosebleeds: shpfff. I had too many other things making me cower to get the wig over a few silly, half-hearted nosebleeds.) The suicide-by-tub wasn't even that bad--well, it was
bad, it was horrifying, but it didn't involve foaming or seizures or anything gratuitously ewwy like that. I'm just saying, in retrospect, I can look back at a lot of the scenes in The Ring and see restraint. And Gore Verbinski--where has Gore Verbinski been all this time? I mean, I know he's the director of Mouse Hunt and The Mexican. Again: Where has he been all this time, that he could just pull a movie of such slow, ratcheting dread out of his ass?--can afford to hold back on his money shots because he works you so hard on the way there. I am serious: I spent a lot of the movie with my coat over my head. Thank God there were only eight other people in the theater, because I must have looked like a moron. And of course--I empathize with the Naomi Watts character on this one, although I wanted to smack her upside the head when she found a second mysterious tape and decided to watch that one, too--curiosity is probably going to be the death of me, so I kept pulling the coat down to my nose and peering over the collar. And because this is a remake, and ample spoilers were available to me beforehand, and because curiosity is going to be the death of me, I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen in the movie. And that only made it worse, because I sat there dreading what I knew had to be coming up, wondering what horrors Verbinski was going to shove in my face, and I'll be real honest with you: Almost every single time, the payoff was scary...but not half as bad as I had imagined. And this is not a failing of Verbinski or the screen-writer, Ehren Kruger: They give us time on purpose to imagine, to fear what's coming next, to let our own dread eat us alive. The strange thing was how emotionally involved I felt--I just about burst into tears by the end of the horse scene, and the final death was really upsetting. The only other time I remember getting upset like that was while watching The Omen.

So this is not a jumpy-scare kind of movie. Of course, I got so nervous that random loud sounds startled me, but that's par for the course in a horror movie. No,
The Ring is more about dread--seriously: by the time Naomi Watts fell into the well, I honestly thought I might prefer to pass out rather than keep watching. In fact, the gorgeously depressive cinematography is the color of dread, a queasy, pessimistic grey-green, with a few despairing blues thrown in for balance. The "death" makeup is good, too, if by "good" you mean "oh my Jesus, it haunts my dreams and waking moments." I was a little on the fence about the final Samara confrontation, having seen that scene from the original Ringu--and if you have, too, you'll know what I'm talking about--because in Ringu Sadako was creepy but extremely real-looking. In The Ring, they actually play with the idea that Samara has walked right out of a video--she's almost like a hologram at moments. And I can't decide if I like that better or not.

And there are a few flaws--the opening dialogue with the two girls sounded fake and stagy. Becca (Rachael Bella) doesn't really come into her own until her scene in the mental hospital, although Katie (Amber Tamblyn) does a very good job in the opening scene--I felt so bad for poor Katie. And I liked little Aidan (David Dorfman) a lot--I only wish people would stop writing preternaturally perceptive kids in the "I see dead people" vein and focus on what it would be like to be a real, normal kid in the given situation. Naomi Watts, of course, manages to bring desperate sympathy to a charac-ter who initially seems somewhat careless and self-absorbed. Also, she screams like a champ. And Martin Henderson is hot, so it's all good.

As for plot holes--I'm sure there must be some, but I didn't really notice them, though they've apparently turned off a lot of other viewers. I know I jumped all over
Minority Report for crimes against logic, but to me the premise of that movie, Tom Cruise's entire job, was based around logic and deduction. The Ring is a film that proceeds more with the warped logic of a nightmare, and honestly--to me, not necessarily understanding why or how supernatural things happened was kind of the point. That's why they're scary, and that's why the characters are in such a panic--and at such a loss--to explain or solve them. The implication of the very last frames, though, is genius--although it probably won't resonate properly until the movie comes out on video.

Because, see, that's the thing: I walked out of this movie feeling extremely traumatized. (Other people were chatting in hushed, creeped-out tones. Your reaction will probably depend on how imaginative/easily scared you are, I admit that freely.) But I would go see it again. In fact, I probably will. And I'll buy the DVD when it comes out. Just not the videotape.
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See also:

Daily Digest wallpaper

the "cursed" video
at Lights Out Entertainment

our preview page
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Digest affiliate Ringworld