Your parents always told you that watching too much TV would be bad for your health
Despite its title, let me just make very clear to any of you who are unsure - The Ring has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with hobbits. Anyone expecting to see furry-footed munchkins and old wizards fighting the forces of darkness will be sorely disappointed. If you are, in fact, expecting to see a horror movie, then you're in for a treat.
I should also, perhaps, make it clear that before I went to see The Ring, I had not seen Hideo Nakata's Japanese original (rather bizarrely called a classic, despite only being made four years before this), of which this is a remake, so I can make no comparison. Though remakes are invariably inferior to the original, this seems solid enough to warrant viewing for fans of Ringu, and any fears of it being a travesty along the lines of Gus Van Sant's Psycho can be laid aside.
Horror movies are, as a general rule, awful, and this reviewer hasn't been scared by any of them since he was 7. I was also very skeptical of US press which described this as "One of the scariest horror films ever". This, perversely, generally means that it's likely to be about as scary as Teletubbies (I don't know though - that Tinky Winky? Brrrr). That this made me jump twice, and unsettled me throughout, is testament to the director's ability to create tension - most scares in these types of film are telegraphed so far in advance that they could just as well hand out schedules at the start of the film: 7mins 32secs - body falls out of closet; 22mins 2secs - axe-wielding maniac attacks car; and so on.
The Ring is the story of a videotape, that once viewed, means you have only seven days to live before a grisly death. This is a decidedly interesting premise - a VHS you'd actually want to watch LESS than anything with Julia Roberts in it, or wipe it from your mind more urgently than Sweet Home Alabama.
When her teenage niece dies in mysterious circumstances, and her best friend, who was with her at the time, ends up in a psychiatric hospital, Seattle journalist Rachel Keller decides to investigate.
Upon discovering that three more of young Katie's friends all died on the same day, in equally mysterious circumstances, Rachel tries to find a link, and comes across the videotape. After watching it, her telephone rings, and a voice desperately in need of a throat sweet tells her "Seven Days". Now the scene is set for Rachel's investigation and the most important deadline (excuse the pun) of her life. Enlisting the help of former lover Noah (Martin Henderson), Rachel travels around farms, hospitals and lighthouses in the Pacific Northwest trying to track down the source of the tape and its meaning.
Naomi Watts stars as Rachel Keller, and proves that Mulholland Drive was not just a one-off for this fine actress. She gives a strong performance, and it is her presence that helps lend credibility to the scenario. She is backed up by Martin Henderson, who does a reasonable job as her initially skeptical former lover, and David Dorfman as her son, Aidan. Dorfman is particularly good, bringing to mind Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, and that he gets to the end without once uttering "I see dead people" is the most implausible thing about the film.
The film is directed by Gore Verbinski, veteran of such venerable works as Mouse Hunt and The Mexican, but don't let this put you off. Verbinski handles the film well, keeping the tension high and the viewer unsettled throughout. It has been mooted that this film could have been scarier in the hands of a recognised horror-director, but since most other films directed by these directors are, to put it bluntly, bloody awful, I feel this is unlikely to be the case.
Where this film really succeeds, while so many others in its genre have failed, is that it not only sets out to scare, but to entertain. Backing-up the frights is an extremely interesting mystery, which will have you intrigued and desperate to know the outcome. This other level means that, should you fail to be frightened, you will at least be entertained, and not feel as if you have wasted your money.
Featuring good performances, an original idea (oh for more of those), suitably drab locations, at least two false endings, and "the scariest horse ever", this is one of the best examples of its genre in a long time.
If anyone were to listen to me, I'd give this film 4 out of 5 Combined Goodness Units.
Martin Henderson (Noah)
David Dorfman (Aidan Keller)