Well, that was the cheeky review I was anticipating having to write but as it turns out, The Ring is more than the usual teen horror film. In fact, The Ring succeeds in a number of areas I wasn't expecting it to. Instead of walking away from the theater feeling bilked out of eight dollars I found myself going over the many eerie set pieces and relishing the visual spectacle I'd just witnessed.
By now you've probably already heard a number of things about the film including that it's based on a very successful Japanese release called Ringu. If you've seen the trailer you know the central conceit is that a supernatural videocassette kills viewers exactly seven days after watching it. Because The Ring relies on switchbacks, sudden shocks and unexpected plot turns I'm going to address it in the most general of terms so as not to spoil the fun.
The main thought on my mind as the curtain went up was that the urban legend-like plot device was just too silly to allow a reasonable amount of suspension of disbelief. A video that kills you? How silly can you get? But about a quarter of the way into the screening I was sold. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't exactly clinging to the edge of my seat but I did find The Ring to be an above average shocker.
The Ring's weakest point is its plot. It's chock full of silly dialogue, thin motivations, questionable actions and characters for whom the description 'one-dimensional' would be a monumental understatement. Such a criticism would be a damning indictment to just about any other film, but in this case I think a solid argument can be made that plot is secondary to pure visual style. That is to say, where art direction responds directly to story in most films, it's the exact opposite case here. Story in The Ring is almost completely subservient to the creation of pure atmosphere.
The Ring takes place in and around Seattle and presents us with a Pacific Northwest that's suffused with dampness and decay by using film stocks and or processing techniques that eliminate most blues from the picture. Everything has a moldy green cast to it. The images are shot with very high contrast so that the blacks are deep and mysterious while whites flair out and dazzle the eye. Neither of these elements would succeed without exceptional cinematography and luckily that's exactly what The Ring has. The composition of individual shots range from serviceable to spectacular and in some cases seem to rise to the purely artistic. There was never a boring or predictable shot in the film.
The technical skill displayed in The Ring extends beyond cinematography to almost every other aspect of the production. The editing of the feature is tight, tense and innovative. The sound design is rich and nuanced, showing Skywalker Sound at the height of its craft. The set dressings are very detailed and endlessly rewarding to a roving eye. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a technical flaw anywhere in the film.
Two specific things make The Ring worth seeing. First is the abundance of genuinely chilling set pieces. Rather than presenting the audience with blood and gore, The Ring chooses to thrill the mind's eye with quick glimpses and hints of the horror that it depicts. There are at least a half dozen noteworthy set pieces and three that rise to nearly classic status. Again, none of these are jumping-out-of-your-seat scary but succeed by working on a deeper psychology. Those three high points are so seamlessly visualized that you may never be able to shake them from your mind.
Finally and most importantly The Ring benefits from a great performance by leading actress Naomi Watts. Though hardly the tour de force she served up in Mulholland Drive, her portrayal of Seattle newspaper reporter Rachel Keller is well above average. Ms. Watts seems to excel at characters that undergo deep transformations over the course of their story arcs. Keller begins as a spunky investigative reporter with a healthy streak of skepticism but quite convincingly transforms into a full-fledged believer in the supernatural by the end of the movie. A lesser actress would have had trouble pulling this off so seamlessly. It's nice to see Ms. Watts getting some high profile roles and I look forward to seeing how her career develops.
For all its plot failings I'd recommend The Ring if only for the sheer visual style of it all. If you don't go in expecting The Exorcist or Psycho you won't be disappointed. If you allow yourself to be receptive to the strange internal logic of The Ring you'll be rewarded by a film that makes a conscious effort to innovate and achieves that goal seemingly in spite of the inept script.