The Ring (2002), or Japanese Horror Redux

27 04 2009

Remember the big Japanese horror boom a couple years back? What happened to that? I thought that it was going to be the next big thing, and last time I checked, I don’t even think Japan even makes horror movies anymore. Or if they do, they stay far away from the American box office. The Japanese horror had an interesting spin on things that American horror movies could never put a finger on before, a twisted supernatural element that had eluded our shores until the turn of the millennium. Two American remakes really put the scene on the map here; Sarah Michelle Gellar’s remake of Ju-On (aka The Grudge) and today’s film, Naomi Watts’s remake of Ringu (aka The Ring). And judging by the two of them, its clear that this one was the superior of the two despite the similarities.

We all know the story, so I’ll keep it brief. Rachel is a journalist who keeps hearing strange rumors and urban legends about a videotape with a sinister backstory, and that if one watches it, that person will die seven days later. Well, Rachel is intrigued after learning that her niece died recently, and the night of her death just happened to fall seven days after watching the tape. She begins to learn the origins of the tape, and the strange images contained therein. Can she unlock the mystery of the tape before it kills somebody else?

Now, this movie commits a trademark sin of horror films by over-explaining the mysteries surrounding the beginning to the point that by the end everything seems so pedestrian that we feel ashamed to have been afraid in the first place (I like to call this phenomenon EXPOSITION POISONING). It’s a common tactic used to pad the running time of a film to that golden delicious 90 minutes, and it has been around in the business for years. But here’s the catch; the premise of The Ring is so damn creepy, it breaks through the haze of its own self-appointed EXPOSITION POISONING. It doesn’t matter who the director or the cast is, as long as they can at least make an attempt to film a script like this without embarrassing themselves here, they’re in smooth waters. And luckily enough, the creators of this film had just enough in them to not screw this up too badly.

It’s an eerie thought that something as innocuous as a tape could kill you, and its equally intersting to note that by the time that this movie came out, VHS tapes were falling by the wayside. There’s a certain mystique about a defunct medium that invites a lot of uncertainty and dark curiosity. Like silent, black and white films, it would be very disturbing to watch a grainy, sepia-toned murder taking place in the 1920s, or a phonograph recording of a violent suicide. It’s the idea of finding something lost that time had forgotten about, and although a tape isn’t that uncommon, it’s something that anybody could put anything on, and that is bothersome when the recesses of our world could decide at any moment to leave us a memento of its cruelty or its unsavory activities.

The cast and crew are, as previously mentioned, capable enough. Naomi Watts has more talent than she uses here, where as the journalist Rachel she projects intelligence as much as she does a single-dimensional personality. The rest of the players are good enough, with Brian Cox coming in to look dour and concerned and two, count ’em TWO, creepy kids for the price of one here (one is good, however, while one is undeniably e-v-i-l). They actually have a better cast in the sequel to this film, to be honest, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s a cast that is able enough to let the horror happen to them, which in this case was definitely needed.

There’s good atmosphere here, a plot that can’t really be de-railed by anything ignorant Americans try to throw at it, and the famed director of Mouse Hunt, Gore Verbinski. What more could you want? It really is a decent horror film, and despite the fact that the original film, Ringu, is much more beloved by fans of the genre than this version, it has its own merits that cannot be ignored. I liked it, and you might too. I give The Ring 7 1/2 doses of EXPOSITION POISON out of 10.

Tomorrow I take a reader recommendation from long-time fan Kevan, where I will watch Gummo! Until then!!!!

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