HCF REWIND NO. 152: THE RING 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 110 min
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Two teenage girls Katie Embry and Becca Kotler discuss a supposedly cursed videotape. According to legend, those who watch the tape get a disturbing phone call and die seven days later. Katie reveals that seven days ago, she went to a cabin at Shelter Mountain Inn with her boyfriend, where she viewed the video tape. Katie’s corpse is found distorted in a cupboard and Becca is institutionalised in a mental hospital. Katie’s cousin Aidan Keller is also hugely affected by Katie’s death. Katie’s mother asks her sister Rachel, a journalist, to investigate Katie’s death, which leads her to discover that two other teenagers who watched the tape died. A photograph of all four victims has their faces weirdly distorted. Rachel finds and watches the tape; the phone rings, and she hears a child’s voice say “seven days”…..
The wave of US remakes of Asian horror films like Ju-On: The Grudge, One Missed Call and The Eye seemed to die out not that long ago, and many horror fans were probably thankful, because the remakes, while usually [though not always] decent in their own right, rarely matched the originals. Often this was because the uniqueness and power of the originals were partly cultural, and therefore you lose quite a bit when you transpose them elsewhere. The one that, for me, actually did better the original was The Grudge, but that may have been because they hired the original director and got him to do an almost identical remake. It was also the only example where I saw the American version before the Japanese, and therefore was frightened a lot more by it. Often whichever version you see first affects you more. The Ring was the film that opened up the floodgates for these remakes, and any quick glance at message boards will tell you that horror fans are constantly in debate as to which is better: The Ring, or the 1998 Ringu, the American picture, unusually, having as many advocates as the Japanese. My opinion on this? Well, you’re just going to have to plough through this review a bit more to find out, but I will say right now that The Ring is a solid chiller in its own right and a surprisingly low-key and intelligent one to both come from Hollywood and do huge business at the box office.
Ringu of course had been a sensation in Japan, leading to not just a direct sequel and a direct prequel but five [so far] other adaptations of the material, even though Koji Suzuki’s original novel had only been a minor success. It was no surprise that Hollywood became interested and Ehren Kruger was hired to adapt the original film. Kruger is something of an anomaly: he wrote the excellent screenplay to Arlington Road but everything else he’s written has been very flawed, and that extends to The Ring‘s script, though much of it was re-written several times at the behest of the studio. Numerous scenes, some of which made it to early previews, were shot and then cut out or re-shot as the story was changed a few times, most notably Chris Cooper as a murderer appearing at the beginning and end of the film, a CGI montage of the deadly tape being actually created, and an alternate ending with Rachel putting the cursed tape in the sleeve for one of her rented movies and returning it to the video store, where it ends up under “employee picks”. Two deaths were also toned down. Some, though certainly not all, of the deleted and re-shot material can be found on the DVD, and I think the inclusion of some of it would have improved the film. All this work paid off at the box office though, and the Asian horror remake craze was born.
The Ring certainly begins in great fashion, the build-up to the death of Katie so well managed that I did think when I watched this at the cinema that this could be an improvement on the original. Being made to think several times that somebody or something could be behind a door that has been opened is so cheap, but it always works, and the unobtrusive yet clever camerawork really lets the tension work up to a head. Katie walks into the room where Becca is and her face starts to change [poor CGI here, but never mind]. Then a few minutes later, at Katie’s funeral, we have a brief flashback to her dead body being found, and she looks just horrid, all withered with her mouth wide open in terror. It’s a great example of horror that makes your mind work overtime in filling in the horrific details. Katie must have crawled into the closet, terrified, as her face was changing, then huddled in there until she died, where her mother then found her. Great stuff, and for a while the film continues like this. The atmosphere is both creepy and melancholy, something enhanced by the sickly green everywhere. The relaxed pace allows for some nice little moments, not essential but adding to the downbeat feel, like when Rachel standing on her balcony looking at the people in the opposite appartment block. The video, when seen, contains some startling imagery and is quite disturbing, haunting images of a tree and the sea remaining in the mind. And the moment when Rachel finds out that her son has watched the tape is a real punch in the gut and very well acted by Naomi Watts, in a role which was first offered to Jennifer Connelly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale.
Sadly, it soon becomes apparent that Kruger has forgotten to actually give Watts an actual character to play, while David Dorfman plays young Aidan in a far too weird manner right from the offset. He seems to be trying to copy Haley Joel Osmond in The Sixth Sense, but it’s not really right for this story. The tale gets bogged down in background detail as Rachel investigates the video, and, while the sad feel remains, the film just isn’t very scary. After the early scenes of Rachel suffering things like a nose-bleed and hallucinations, there is little sense of an evil force that is around. Kruger added a scene from Ringu 2 into this film, but seeing Samara in flashback speaking as a young girl helps to ruin her mythos and aura. Still, the direction by Gore Verbinski makes excellent use of lighting and sound effects in many scenes, such as a bit with a [seemingly] possessed horse, even if the sequence is silly and was obviously added to give the film some action. There’s even some subliminal imagery, while the many aerial shots and autumnal colours also make the film interesting to look at and it really does have a unique mood of sadness and muted horror. The pace is ramped again towards the end and you eventually do get a frightening climax.
Well…..it’s frightening if you haven’t seen the original film. No, except for the opening scene and the overall look of the film, I don’t think the remake is as good. This is mostly because of approach. The Japanese film didn’t feel the need to explain everything and was scarier as a result. Kruger and the American producers obviously thought that US audiences not only couldn’t handle the psychic element of the story, but needed everything else to be spelt out for them and in doing actually weakened the story. There is some stuff that is not entirely relevant: in fact, despite all the alterations, you could cut 15 min from the US version and in doing so you would make it better. And as for the ending…well it might be really good on its own but if you compare it with the original’s ending then they actually rather botched it. The Japanese version simply shows an actress coming out of a TV in one long shot, and yet it remains one of the most terrifying scenes ever. The American one cuts away to a car racing around mid-scene, then uses some different angles when it cuts back and, last but not least, weak CGI. The final scene just isn’t as sinister too. The Japanese film waited until the final moment to introduce a nasty plot element. The American one introduced said plot element early on and therefore weakened the ending.
Even though it falters in places, there is a lot to like about The Ring, right down to Hans Zimmer’s moody scoring. Though never a great composer, there was a time when he did seem able to get ‘inside’ a film and his music did add to films. Whether over-elaborated or not, it’s quite an affecting, haunting story. The film could have been a far cruder exercise, going for lots of gore and jump scares. In the end, it’s a solid remake, and if still far inferior, it’s a different enough take on a brilliant concept to more than justify its existence. It remains effective enough to make the simple act of a phone ringing seem like the most terrifying thing in the world.
Check out Matt Wavish’s review of the superior original here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2011/04/the-ringu-trilogy-my-near-death-experience-with-sadako-by-matt-wavish/
And my review of The Ring 2 is coming soon!