The Ring (2002) - A great thing about this film is the really well done opening sequence, two girls in a room talking about an urban legend and scaring and joking with each other. I had forgotten that the most memorable piece, the face of the first victim, was a couple scenes after this sequence. What is great about it is that it really creates and informs us about the VHS tape mythology, as well as giving us the first scare of the movie. The tension is built well with the television and water both thing become more important to the curse so it is good foreshadowing.
The story starts with two teenage friends, Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella), hanging out watching television. Katie tells Becca about her trip to Shelter Mountain Inn with her boyfriend and a couple other friends. There is this nice combination of joking about sex and sharing the story of the tape. Katie explains how there is this tape that when you watch it a curse it set. You immediately receive a phone call telling you you have seven days to live. Katie says she watched the tape exactly a week ago and then seems to choke, her friend takes her in her arms alarmed. There is a nice break in the tension as you see that Katie is pretending to choke. Still the scene plays a nice little game where you are not sure if Katie actually watched the video or is just telling a story. Then again a tension break when her mother calls. It is very effective, the bringing Becca up to a tense state but then relieving the tension for a new build up.
Only after Becca left the room did the risk to Katie seem real. So what happened to Becca who we later find out ended up in a psychiatric ward. There is the television going on and Katie being afraid. Then movement down the hall, and Becca being no where to be found. Again the sequence is so well constructed that you forget you really don't see anything terrifying. After the dripping doorknob we leave the house and start on the story proper. It has been a very effective set up for what is a wonderful mystery.
If there is a major flaw with the characters in this film it is that of Aiden (David Dorfman) the son of Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts). He is establish early as someone supernatural in ability, but does this fit the mythology or is it a convenient character trick to allow exposition that helps his Mother? He draws pictures of his dead cousin Katie dead but does it prior to the actual end. He is connected to the ghost girl Samara having some kind of mental connection to her. He relays information to Rachel several times during the movie and I am not really sure I buy the connection. Katie who baby sat him was his best friend, she was our first victim in the movie so there is that connection but is it enough? Sure he is a creepy kid who is non emotional and acts way to adult for his age. In his monotone he calls he mother by her first name adding to his character. Really though he is a kid and there is never really any explanation of why he has the connection he has. Still the fact he sees the tape and his believing mother has to figure out how to save him is a nice added motivation. I am not really sure his character adds to the mythology which could stand on its own.
This film is pretty tight as it moves along and once Rachel is on the case of Katies death. She learns of the trip to the cabin and the death tape. She gets a copy of the film and after watching it gets the call and has seven days to solve the mystery. This film works on this level too. Rachel has a time limit before her death comes and it adds a very nice atmosphere to the film. Most of the film is her and her former boyfriend, and father of Aiden, Noah (Martin Henderson) doing investigative journalism in trying to find out the story of the tape before it is too late.
Since VHS was only developed in 1976 and the videos of Samara (Daveigh Chase) were made in 1978 there is a real leap of faith we have to make here about the availability and use of the format. It is hidden well in a compelling story of a horse farm on a small island that has turned bad. The horses get sick and die, and the family at the center of it, the Morgans, experience an unusual amount of hardship after adopting the child Samara. Rachel for her part after finding the VHS, then figures out the island where it was made and the story of the Morgans. Now what she hopes to accomplish is really unclear but isn't that what a mystery is all about. This problem solving is all about the small things at the edges of the story, each piece is discovered and pulled into focus and it progresses the story before some other small thing takes focus. It is effective as a storytelling strategy.
When all is said and done it appears that Rachel has seemed to solve the mystery. She and Noah have reconnected and she heads home to tell her son that all is well. Only thing is the supernatural connection the boy has with the ghost has him in a tizzy. He knows that now that Samara has been laid to rest that it is the worst outcome. The false ending gears back up as Rachel tries to solve the last piece of the puzzle. Why didn't she die at the end of seven days? She thought it was because she solved the mystery of the Morgan family but now in the harshest way she realizes it was not the case.Will she figure it out before Noah's time is up. How will she save her son who has also seen the death tape. You will have to view this movie and see for yourselves.
This is a well put together story by screenwriter Ehren Kruger, with reasonably compelling characters and a twist that screams for the sequel that was to come. Considering the drivel he later put out this is by far his best work to date. The story by Koji Suzuki is solid enough that he did not mess it up too badly in adapting it for an American audience. Director Gore Verbinski creates a cloudy world of mystery and his blue\ish palette works in this case.
In seeking out the gore shots for this article I was interested in seeing if they were good looking effects. In the film the two death faces shown were done so quickly it was hard to tell if it was because they were poor or for effect. You can judge for yourself. Naomi Watts is good as the reporter and the supporting cast is solid. I particularly liked the quiet menace that Brian Cox brought to his role as Richard Morgan. solid is how I would describe this horror/ mystery film.
Rating (7.3) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.