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FEATURING: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman
PLOT: An urban legend says that seven days after watching a mysterious videotape, you will die; a journalist investigating the phenomenon has a week to figure out the secret behind the tape.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Ring conjures up the mysterious, but only for the purpose of reassuring us that everything obscure will eventually be made clear. It’s the typical horror movie strategy for dealing with the uncomfortably supernatural: acknowledge the weird by treating it like a monster, as the enemy to be banished. At any rate, if we were going to include this story on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, we’d select the original Japanese Ringu (1998) ahead of this (admittedly faithful and effective) American remake.
COMMENTS: The killer tape begins with an image of a fiery ring of light, then segues through shots of a woman in a mirror, a bleeding nail, severed fingers twitching in a box, a closeup of a horse’s eye, a levitating chair, a falling ladder, and more. “It’s very ‘student film,'” says AV expert and potential victim Noah dismissively. In fact, the fake avant-garde film-within-the-film stands alone as a weird and disturbing artifact. It’s also the center of the plot: after heroine Rachel watches the tape, the images imprisoned therein escape into the real world—by eerie coincidence, she sees a dead ringer for the ladder from the film leaning against an alleyway wall, and what happens with the fly on the lens of the camera is even more inexplicable. Furthermore, almost every symbol that appears onscreen is eventually decoded and de-randomized as she investigates the history of the curse; the demonic motivation behind the tape is fully revealed, and the only unanswered questions relate to its manufacture. Although this demystification process is standard procedure in psychological horror, and in fact an essential part of the appeal of the genre, from our peculiar perspective here at 366 Weird Movies there is something ironic about making a surrealistic short film the centerpiece of the story, then taking it apart and mapping each mysterious symbol to a plot point on the backstory until all the weirdness has been leached out of it. Be that as it may, The Ring is a fine piece of supernatural filmmaking, with brisk pacing and genuine scares that aren’t tacked on but develop out of a horrific storyline with psychological depth. The story’s mystery isn’t groundbreaking or shocking by genre standards, but director Verbinski parcels out the clues slowly and judiciously to build dread and anticipation. The performances by Watts and Henderson, each of whom play slightly unsympathetic characters who are reformed during their trial by terror, are good. Young Dorfman makes for a creepy, prematurely grown up kid, even though his character is poorly conceived and one of the movie’s weak points (the part shamelessly suggests a variation on the psychic boy from The Shining). All in all, The Ring makes for an effective fright machine; it’s the only Hollywood remake of a J-horror hit that’s capable of standing on its own against the Asian original.
The 2012 Dreamworks Ring Blu-ray release doesn’t appear to be remastered (the movie’s not that old) but it looks and sounds great. It doesn’t feature any commentary but includes numerous extras besides the expected trailer: “Don’t Watch This,” a strange featurette which mixes deleted scenes with highlights from the film to create something akin to a ten minute alternate cut; cast interviews; “The Origin of Terror,” a mini-doc on urban legends; and, best of all, the 16 minute short film Rings, a self-contained mini-sequel set in the Ring universe. The cursed film-within-a-film itself is included as an Easter egg (instructions on accessing it can be found here).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…teeters right on the edge of the ridiculous. Enormous craft has been put into the movie, which looks just great, but the story goes beyond contrivance into the dizzy realms of the absurd.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)