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The Ring (2003)
Director: Gore Verbinski

review by Steven Hampton

Ehren Kruger's screenplay for this American remake of Japan's cult Ringu, returns to the source material of Kôji Suzuki's novel, but relocates the action to Seattle. Gore Verbinski, maker of Pirates Of The Caribbean, does a sterling job of milking the urban myth about videos that are too scary to watch. The Ring is a compelling dark fantasy, like a Grimms' fairy tale peculiar to the modern era - where the mystique of technology (how many people understand precisely how a VCR machine, or a television, works?) may be a potent substitute for magic.
   Two schoolgirl victims (Katie suffers inexplicable heart failure, while her friend Becca is confined to a mental hospital) alert investigative reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) to a series of teenage deaths, which are somehow linked to the kids' weekend stay in a cabin at Shelter Mountain Inn, where she discovers an unmarked videotape with a bizarre collage of psychic images. The image of a lighthouse provides a vital clue leading Rachel to Moesko Island, where she meets tragically maligned widower Richard Morgan (the great Brian Cox, on form), a horse-farmer who is still haunted by the suicide of his troubled wife Anna (Shannon Cochran, from Star Trek: Nemesis) and the loss of his adopted daughter Samara (Daveigh Chase). Aided by her ex-lover, fringe filmmaker Noah (Martin Henderson), Rachel puts all the pieces of this puzzle together and they find the well that serves as a watery tomb, but Rachel and Noah become concerned about their precocious son Aidan (David Dorfman), after he watches the accursed video�
   Gimmicky snapshots with blurry misshapen faces, a spooky green tint on key-light close-ups, the unnerving hiss of static on TV screens, a fly that appears from nowhere, and the sight and sound of perpetual rainfall, are among the intermittently weird elements that presage and heighten several terrifically jarring moments. Admirable cinematography by Bojan Bazalli, with muted colours that complement the b/w video imagery and artful flashbacks, another amazingly haunting score by the talented Hans Zimmer, and special makeup f/x by the peerless Rick Baker - ranging from utterly gross to eerily subtle effects, without stooping to a generic deluge of blood 'n' gore or unconvincing latex masks, ensure the film's technical aspects are top notch across the board.
   Verbinski's version of The Ring is further enriched by classy performances - from the likes of Jane Alexander, whose Dr Grasnik delivers much of the plot's background yet never slips into standard expository mode, and it's great to see child performers like Dorfman - as Aidan, and Chase - as the moody Samara, capable of making a real contribution to the drama without overacting. The young Dorfman, in particular, reminded me of the gifted Lukas Haas in Frank LaLoggia's excellent ghost story Lady In White (1988). However, at the heart of this film is a stunning performance by Watts, who played Jet Girl in the intriguing but flawed Tank Girl (1995), and went on to bag the dual role of innocent Betty and doomed Diane in David Lynch's supremely enigmatic Mulholland Drive. In the last few years, this British born actress has escaped from TV movie obscurity to become one of the most promising female stars in Hollywood.
   Like many fans of the original Japanese trilogy, I was rather sceptical about this US feature when it was first announced. But Verbinski has successfully translated the essential supernatural thrills for US multiplex audiences, and has maintained the earlier version's commitments to characterisation and storytelling verve.
The Ring

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