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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Ring (review)

Nonspoilable

The scariest thing about The Ring is how much Naomi Watts looks like her buddy Nicole Kidman.

Okay, not really — though the resemblance here is downright eerie — but that’s about all I can say without spoiling things for you. Please, if you haven’t already read other reviews or seen trailers and TV ads, don’t. Because much of the skin-crawling pleasure of The Ring comes from not knowing what’s coming. Like, if in real life you were to accidentally wander into a haunted house or a spaceship infested with brain-sucking aliens, you wouldn’t actually know that walking in, and the surprise of a demonic cat grabbing your ankle or an acid-blooded beastie attaching itself to your skull would be, you know, a surprise. You wouldn’t be walking through the house or the spaceship going, “Oh, this is the part where the monster attacks, so I’ll be prepared and not jump too high.”
There are no demonic cats or brain-sucking aliens in The Ring — I wouldn’t spoil things like that for you — but you see what I mean.

There aren’t even very many scares along the lines of “This is the part where the whatever jumps out” in fact, either. No, it’s much creepier, much smarter stuff than that. Anyone can go “Boo!” and make you leap from your seat for a moment. It’s making stuff haunt you even after the movie’s over that’s harder, so not too many movies even attempt it. The Ring goes for those kinds of scares — the ones where, days later, you’re walking down the street and something reminds you of something in the movie and you suddenly get the shivers because you’ve finally realized the implications of that something, which seemed only momentarily creepy at the time.

Still, it’s important not to know even these things in advance.

So, how much can I actually say about a movie without saying anything? Let’s find out:

Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) is Rachel Keller, a journalist with a Seattle newspaper, and her teenaged niece has died under mysterious, urban-legend-like circumstances: the niece watched a videotape that, according to her school pals, kills you a week later. How can a videotape kill you? Could it be a bootleg copy of The Master of Disguise? Of course Rachel must know, so she investigates and uncovers the tape and involves her friend Noah (Martin Henderson, who’s very cute), who’s some kind of expert in photography and videography or something — he has lots of cool electronic equipment, at least. Also, Rachel’s young son, Aidan — played by David Dorfman (Bounce), a serious little man who’s got a real Haley Joel-in-The Sixth Sense vibe to him — will be drawn into events…

I think that’s all I can say. I can’t even tell you what “the ring” is, because that would reveal too much, but I can let you know for sure that it is not the One Ring (though it too seems to doom all who see it) and no hobbits appear in the movie. Beyond that, you’ll have to discover for yourself.

And it’s worth making that discovery, because while monsters — like acid-drooling aliens and demonic kitties — are good for a fright, The Ring is full of the stuff that sticks with you, the kind of horrors that are close enough to being a real part of the human experience that they send you into a kind of despair. (Wait — is that a good thing?) Yes, there are some jump-in-your-seat moments, and the videotape-as-killer thing is clearly fantastically — although, good lord, you may never look at your VCR the same again — but much of what’s alarming here stems from the all-too-genuine lengths people will go to in order to hurt their own children… as well as the all-too-genuine lengths people will go in order to protect their children.

Again, I tread too close to saying too much. Maybe we should just be talking about the other scary thing about The Ring, which is that the Japanese movie upon which it is based, 1998’s Ringu (which I haven’t seen), was, like, bigger than Godzilla in Japan and yet still didn’t warrant a release here unless it was remade by director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, Mouse Hunt) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Reindeer Games, Arlington Road). Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad they did it and all — but what the hell? Then again, it was the Japanese company Sony that got us all hooked on VCRs in the first place, so perhaps there was a fear about infected video copies of Ringu. I’m only asking, is all. Does anyone know if millions of Japanese horror geeks died suspiciously in 1998?

Oh, and by the way, this review is infected with the Ring.Worm.exe virus, and your computer now has only seven days to live. Suckers.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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