2 January 2006 | dbdumonteil
scary, thoughtful and satisfying which is fine with me
These last years, apart from the rendering of popular comic strips and the adaptation of TV series for the big screen, American cinema feels a vivacious interest for Oriental culture, especially the Japanese one. Quentin Tarantino's violent and hollow "Kill Bill" (2003/2004) was supposed to be an homage to the samurai movie (but I'm not a Tarantino buff by a long shot). In the derivative "the Last Samurai" (2003), Tom Cruise discovered the secrets and treasures of Japanese civilization while Sofia Coppola used the city of Tokyo as the backdrop for her triumphant "Lost in Translation" (2003). Gore Verbinski chose a more direct and easy way to get interested in Japanese culture: to make a remake of a Japanese movie which became a sleeper: "Ringu" (1998). Against all odds, he made a killing with it although he's an uneven director. "Mousehunt" (1997) was a formulaic but enjoyable comedy but "the Mexican" (2001) was a lame movie. Some friends had told me: "don't watch "the Ring", it's a hokey movie". I think they misjudged it and I found this supernatural thriller quite intriguing and gripping. It has enough commendable stuff in store to grab the audience. I haven't seen the original movie and so I will avoid any comparison.
The starting point promises great things and Verbinski will deliver them throughout his flick. The main character, Rachel wants to investigate about a mysterious and cursed videotape which causes the death of the viewer seven days after the latter watched it. What do these outlandish and eerie images mean? What lies beneath them? At her own risk, she and her son watch the video. She has one week to find out the meaning and the omen of the video. "The Ring" could well illustrate this famous premise: "to understand evil, we've got to go back to the sources...".
What distinguishes "the Ring" from other horror stuff of these last years is that there's a solid scenario which holds water until the very last minutes of Rachel's adventure and shelves quite an important number of formulaic ingredients. Special effects which have seemed to become the backbone for many horror flicks are used only when necessary and without flashy effects. Still better, Verbinski shows respect for the audience by clarifying as much as possible obscure points of the story. On an unhurried pace, Verbinski takes all his time to film Rachel's investigation. His directing is also worth the price of admission. It is well-crafted and set with clockwork precision for the schedule of spooky moments. Besides, what is notable in "the Ring" is that Verbinski delays as much as possible chilling sequences to better play with the viewer's nerves. This entails an unsettling aura which helps to convey a latent tension. Lighting and makeup shouldn't also be forgotten.
The thrust of "the Ring" isn't only to entertain and to make shiver. It is also doubled by a reflexion on the power of the image. One of the images of the film depicts a woman in front of a mirror looking at the camera. So, she's also looking at the viewer. This is unhealthy voyeurism that the movie denounces like the insensible media which expose to the mainstream, woes and sorrows of the victims and so manipulate the viewers' fears. The sequence during which Ann Morgan's husband is incensed by Rachel's will to learn more about Samara rings thoroughly true. Moreover, these seemingly maladjusted images embody symbols: the chair and the lighthouse illustrate loneliness, the figure at the window (a hint at "Psycho"?, 1960) might symbolize parental severity.
That said, Verbinski's genteel piece of work isn't exempted of drawbacks. Rachel's little boy is a cardboard character, a vague cousin of Haley Joel Osment in "the Sixth Sense" (1999). When Samara gets out of the well and the screen to kill Rachel's companion, it's nearly Punch and Judy and the first sequence with the two female students in their twenties something, all alone in a house in which strange phenomena and false alarms occur... well, you get the picture. But they're minor quibble and don't overflow too much on the thrill of the vision.
I repeat it: I haven't seen the Japanese ambassador but when a remake is able both to scare with reserve, without flashy special effects and to make the viewer think about what he watches, it can be gratifying. And in the case of "the Ring", rightly so...
A sequel "the Ring 2" opened last year. Is it worthwhile?