Blu-ray Review: ‘The Ring’ Remake Initially Frightens Before Going in Circles

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CHICAGO – I have a certain begrudging affection for Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 thriller, “Ringu,” despite the fact that I know in my heart of hearts that it doesn’t really work. Verbinski’s film falters precisely when it should be at its scariest, and yet it still has enough memorably eerie moments to inspire at least a couple sleepless nights.

It kicked off a series of increasingly inept American remakes of Asian horror films, quickly turning their once frightening motifs into self-satirizing clichés. Many Hollywood filmmakers fail to conjure the sense of brooding unease that allows surrealistic imagery to work its spell. Inexplicable puddles of water, pale-faced victims and a vengeful apparition in a white robe are all expected tropes of the genre, and they were all put to exceedingly powerful use in “Ringu.” It’s the apparition’s face hidden behind a thick mat of stringy hair that generates the most nightmare-inducing tension. Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

The opening sequence in Verbinski’s film shows early signs of promise, as two giggly teen girls (Amber Tamblyn and Rachael Bella) recount the urban legend about a videotape that leads to the mysterious death of the viewer after seven days. Verbinski has fun toying with audience expectations, and gets a surprising amount of spooky mileage from the moment when a television set decides to turn itself on. The sudden zoom-in to Tamblyn’s rapidly decaying face still produces a real jolt, yet as soon as the plot jumps to its main characters, the scares are more sporadic. The box office returns of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” is what surely led to the decision of saddling the heroine, investigative journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts), with a precocious son (David Dorfman) who knows precisely when danger is around the corner. Dorfman is no Haley Joel Osment, and his foreboding dialogue isn’t convincing in the least. Whereas Nakata’s film unfolded with a dreamlike, quietly chilling tone, “The Ring” moves at the pace of a standard Hollywood mystery where clues and red herrings lead to an all-too-sensible conclusion. This approach is all wrong for the subject mater, since it ultimately isn’t supposed to make any logical sense. There’s no time alloted for characters to adequately react to astonishing events as they occur, thus resulting in performances that are oddly soulless, despite the best efforts of a gifted cast. Hot off her extraordinary work in “Mulholland Dr.,” Watts again excels in scenes where her icy Hitchcockian poise is irrevocably rattled.

The Ring was released on Blu-ray on March 20, 2012.
The Ring was released on Blu-ray on March 20, 2012.
Photo credit: Paramount Home Entertainment

The scariest thing in Verbinski’s film is the tape itself, which is a small masterpiece of abstract horror (despite one character’s dismissal of it as lame film school fodder). Its assembly of unnerving images—disembodied fingers twitching in a box, a chair twirling in the air, etc.—are deeply disquieting in a way that the rest of the film isn’t. Once the images gradually function as standard plot points, their scare factor starts to diminish. After a hypnotic build-up, “Ringu” culminated in an iconic horror sequence that earned the film a deserved place on countless lists ranking the scariest films of all time. When “The Ring” attempts its own version of the scene, it falls completely flat. That’s largely because the apparition in “Ringu” was played by an actor, while the apparition in “The Ring” is a digital cartoon that doesn’t appear to be inhabiting the space that it has supposedly infiltrated. A single frozen still of the apparition’s enraged eye in “Ringu” has the power to instantly chill blood. In contrast, Verbinski’s apparition just looks like a moldy Chucky doll when its hair finally slides back. Oddly enough, Nakata’s inferior sequel to the American remake, “The Ring Two,” piled on the digital effects to the point of ridiculousness, leaving little hope for an eventual “Ring Three.”

The problem with this type of horror film is that it is incapable of having a satisfying ending. Its premise exists solely to inspire endless scenes of characters creeping slowly toward an ominous threat before being consumed by it. The films exist solely to produce more sequels, allowing the franchise to continue into oblivion. In a way, they’re no different from America’s glut of “Halloween” retreads, yet I find “Ringu” and its successors infinitely preferable to any standard slasher picture. When you finish watching a horror film late at night and have to creep toward your bed while surrounded by darkness, you will undoubtedly encounter a number of shadows that roughly resemble the willowy apparition of “The Ring.” Regardless of its multiple demerits, Verbinski’s film still possesses the power to fester within the haunted mind.

“The Ring” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with its original widescreen aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and English descriptive audio tracks, and includes no retrospective featurettes celebrating the film’s tenth anniversary. Instead, this Best Buy Exclusive merely offers a digitally remastered picture that only accentuates murky film grains. The extras are all recycled from past releases, such as the enticingly named featurette, “Don’t Watch This,” which is just a collection of forgettable deleted and extended scenes, complete with an obligatory sex tape gag (can’t believe that didn’t make the final cut). A series of cast and crew interviews offer no insights into the process of adapting Nakata’s film, while Jonathan Liebesman’s 16-minute short, “Rings,” merely serves as an unnecessary prequel to “The Ring Two.” Liebesman’s film is built on the intriguing idea that wayward teens would embrace the delusions brought on by the tape as a method of “flying close to the flame.” Sadly, all the loud clangs muddying up the soundtrack are, in essence, lame film school fodder.

‘The Ring’ is released by Paramount Home Entertainment and stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella and Daveigh Chase. It was written by Ehren Kruger and directed by Gore Verbinski. It was released on March 20, 2012. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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