Thursday 4 November 2021

Movie Review: The Ring (2002)

A mystery with horror elements about a video condemning viewers to death, The Ring boasts a beautifully dreary northwest aesthetic. The story elements fluctuate between supernatural, ominous, and intriguing.

In Seattle, teenager Katie (Amber Tamblyn) dies violently seven days after watching a nightmarish video at a cottage sleepover. Her friend Becca (Rachael Bella) witnesses Katie's death and is institutionalized. Katie's aunt is reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a single mom to young son Aidan. She starts investigating her niece's death, and discovers that three friends who watched the video with Katie all died at exactly the same time. 

Rachel locates and watches the video, which consists of unsettling images featuring a mysterious morose woman. As soon as the video ends the phone rings and a young girl's voice predicts Rachel's death in seven days. Worried, she seeks help from her ex-partner (and Aidan's father) Noah (Martin Henderson), a videographer. He also watches the video and together they start researching the images for clues to explain the tape's secrets.

A remake of a 1998 Japanese movie in turn based on a 1991 book, Ring oozes quality and mood. Director Gore Verbinski, working from an Ehren Kruger script, deserves credit for avoiding cheap jump scares and cliched dark settings. Instead The Ring creates a sense of dread from bland, blustery, and isolated locations, dominant dampness ensuring Rachel's ordeal unfolds in miserable greyness.

Between the slasher-inspired opening and the potent ghost-from-the-machine climax, most of the film is more mystery than horror. Rachel sets out to uncover the story behind the video, and the narrative explores past events involving horse breeder Anna Morgan (Shannon Cochran), her husband Richard (Brian Cox), a doctor (Jane Alexander) keeping secrets, a lighthouse, crazed horses, and a troubled adopted child. Hints of madness, violence, death, premonition, and disgusting creepy crawlies inject agitation at regular intervals.

The knowing themes hiding behind the imagery include a woman's desperation to become a mother, a child's potentially disruptive influence on a happy marriage, the sacrifices parents must make to nurture children, and the contagious properties of media. Not surprisingly, parallels emerge between Anna's story and Rachel's reality.

As Rachel races to prevent her own death, logic gaps remain unexplained, Verbinski and Kruger skipping some of the philosophies from the source material and allowing the supernatural elements to just sit on the screen. But beyond the shocks, The Ring finds an effective resolution featuring a clever feint, leaving the option open for sequels with a well-earned sense of proliferating gloom.

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