Note: My review of this film will state very little about the plot of the film. This is a film which heightened my interest further by the fact that I had no clue whatsoever was going to happen for the majority of the running time. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend not reading anything but the basics for the plot before viewing.
Maybe once or twice a year, I walk out of a film completely stunned. These are maybe not films without faults, but they remind me of the kind of hold a film can take on its viewer. "The Ring", a remake of a Japanese film by usual comedy director Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican") is absolutely one of those films. It's not really BOO! scary and it's not fright-by-volume. It's the kind of film that burrows itself under your skin and copies images into your mind that will stay there.
There have been countless horror/thrillers made in the past several years, including "The Blair Witch Project", "The Others", "The Sixth Sense" and "The Mothman Prophecies". "The Ring" works on the same subtle level as films like "The Others". "The Ring" is also a PG-13 film, with little gore or foul language. So why did it scare me unlike well...pretty much any film before it?
The film manages to take horror conventions and make them fresh. An opening scene with two teenage girls that looks like another teen horror film got several laughs from the screening audience deeply familiar with this kind of scene. However, the way this scene unfolds is deeply creepy and doesn't exactly proceed in the way that one might expect.
We're then introduced to Rachel (Naomi Watts, "Mulholland Drive"), a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the single mother of Adian (David Dorfman). With her connection to one of the girls in the opening scene, she sets out to find out what happened to the girl. She runs across the "urban legend" of people dying seven days after watching a mysterious video and finds that the "legend" is far more real than she'd ever expected.
As I mentioned before, "The Ring" isn't one of those films that uses shock cords on the soundtrack every five minutes or has cats jumping out of the dark corners. It is actually a mixture of horror and mystery, with the mystery element considerably more complex and demanding (which is a pleasant change) than I'd expected. Those who see it with a group may find that they have a lot to discuss about their opinion of what really happened in the story.
Most will find the closest similar film in the genre is probably director Mark Pellington's "The Mothman Prophecies". However, Verbinski succeeds in pushing both tone, suspense and scares further. Where that film built to impressive scares and then let the tension deflate, "The Ring"'s atmosphere of dread and more frequent twists and scares keeps consistently building the tension to an almost unbearable level.
Adding to the tone and feel of the movie is Bojan Bazelli's cinematography, which is chilling and creates several scenes that are so darkly beautiful they could be paintings. Hans Zimmer's score is also one of the composer's best. The sound design trio of Lee Orloff ("Blade II"), Craig Wood ("Mousehunt") and Peter Miller also work to create a wildly detailed and immensely creepy soundtrack.
The film's performances are also excellent. Watts, fresh off the success of "Mulholland Drive", has to carry the film here and does so quite beautifully. Dorfman, in a limited role, also thankfully does not just try to do the whole Haley Joel Osment thing again. Martin Henderson (who looks like an older Breckin Meyer) and Brian Cox also provide solid support.
As for the only concern I had with the film (and I have not seen the original Japanese film "Ringu") is that the film occasionally leaves a few plot points wrapped up a bit vaguely. These instances were relatively minor and didn't effect my enjoyment of an otherwise stellar film. One of the year's best.