Sunday, October 16, 2011

30 Days of Fright - 15: The Ring

Technology can be delightfully scary. I say delightfully because, as someone with the bare bones of an eduction in science coupled with several years of pretending to work while actually acting the goat with computers, I don't find technology at all frightening. I tend to find it a bit of a dodge actually; I'm the man who doesn't really do anything because I got a nice shiny computer to do the work for me! There are people who are terrified of computers and other gadgets and we as a species have a long history of being afraid of things like that, particularly cameras and their weird ability to steal your soul, which is something that must have crossed the minds of the makers of last night's movie.

The Ring (2002) stars Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller, a journalist in Seattle whose teenage niece dies in mysterious circumstances. Rachel's sister asks her to look into the causes of her daughters death and as she investigates Rachel comes across an urban legend that may have had something to do with her niece popping her cloggs. The legend, that some of the dead girls friends put some stock in, states that a mysterious video tape exists that shows a series of creepy images and that immediately after watching the tape the viewer will receive a phone call and the voice on the other end of the line will simply state that in seven days time the poor sap who watched the video will die.

Rachel is a little bit skeptical of this story and instead pokes into the girls life in a more conventional manner, including snooping in her room and picking up some photographs she was having developed before she went to meet her maker. Most of the pictures, of the girl and her friends staying in a log cabin, are just your regular run of the mill teenage snaps, but a few of them from the end of the roll of film have a weird distortion over the faces of those in the pictures. Rachel visits the cabin in the pictures and there she finds a mysterious video tape.

Of course, the dozy cow watches the video (which puts the shits up her) and then promptly receives a phone call that tells her she's got seven days. Returning to the city she shows the video to an ex of hers (and the father of her little boy Aidan) who happens to be a bit of a whizz at photography and videos and such. He's not as bothered by the whole thing but Rachel gets more and more worried as the days pass and she begins to experience a series of mighty strange occurrences, including having her own face distort in photographs. Deciding that she has to act as there's a distinct chance that something will kill her within the week, Rachel begins to investigate the images on the tape and pieces together a tragic tale of one families suffering, a terrible secret, and the supernatural events surrounding the tape. While all this is going on, the days quickly pass and more people close to Rachel end up watching the video...

At last, a decent 3D TV!

The Ring ushered in brief period in the early to mid 2000's when Hollywood fell in love with Japanese horror films... which it raped for ideas and then left for dead when it was all finished. The Ring was based on a Japanese movie Ringu, which was based on a book, which was based on an old Japanese story (so everyone nicked the idea from someone else). What made The Ring so exceptional and therefore such a trailblazer, is that it's really good.

From the opening scene with the two girls discussing the tape which was filmed with a green filter to make the whole thing look like it belongs on TV, through to the subtle special effects, the creepy images on the cursed video, and the decidedly modern setting, everything about The Ring screams quality. This is a film I thoroughly enjoyed in 2002 when I caught it at the cinema and, despite the aging technology the story depends on, thoroughly enjoyed again on TV in 2011.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (of Pirates of the Caribbean directing fame) The Ring works from the very start to build dread, initially depending on a quick shock to make the audience uneasy then turning down the volume a little so as to make the next hour a properly creepy experience. The centrepiece of this is the video tape that was supposed to hold a recorded football game but instead  picked up a collection of images that look like something an arty film student would throw together but still manages to be a little disturbing even though there's nothing actually scary on it. The tape serves as a micro version of the entire film as, like the best horror does, The Ring convinces you that something frightening is always just about to happen, though it rarely does. This nervous anticipation is brilliant, and Gore (great name for a horror director) deserves a lot of credit for getting the film to work in this way.

The cast work well too, with Naomi Watts doing a decent turn in a nice little reversal of the traditional horror heroine. Usually in a film like this the female lead starts off all soft and girly (into flower arranging and dress-making and the like) and by the end of the film is a real tough nut (into army boots and guns and the like). In The Ring, Watt's character Rachel starts off as a hard-boiled journo, always ready to give her boss the finger while she digs out the facts behind a story (ala April O'Neill or Lois Lane), but as the film progresses she gets the shits put right up her by that video tape and the truth it leads her to. Another one to watch out for in The Ring is Pauley Perrette (Abby from NCIS) as Rachel's ex's new girlfriend of sorts.The only disappointing person in the film is the young lad Aidan as the character doesn't make a whole pile of sense. He seems to have a bit of a supernatural side to him as he's able to understand the motivations behind what's going on and is definitely better informed than his mum is but that doesn't really go anywhere except to help fill in a bit of a blank near the end.

Overall, The Ring is excellent. Perfectly creepy, nicely paced and featuring a good cast and great direction, with only the inevitable move away from video tapes and the technology and quirk's associated with them holding this film back from the level of praise it deserves.

Two Thumbs Up for The Ring.

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