You put on a video. At first there is just an electronic snowstorm but before you can reach for the remote and eject it, the images start. Strange, unrelated shots almost like a dream (or David Lynch outtakes). And then it is over. And the phone rings… You have seven days to live.
This is the urban legend that newshound Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has overheard being attributed to her niece’s recent unexplained death. She digs deeper and finds the videotape. After watching it she begins to believe the curse is true, and more importantly, that her days are numbered.
Being a big fan of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998), of which this version is often an identikit translation of, I found it very hard to view Gore Verbinski’s film as anything but an extension of its originator. There is very little new here, most scenes merely reset and cast to suit a western viewer. If Nakata’s original was a jar of pristine white sugar then its American counterpart can be seen as tipping the sugar out and filling the same jar with brightly coloured sherbet. The form remains the same and the content is still sweet yet it has been cosmetically ‘enhanced’ for no reason. For example, the pure and simple holiday home of Ringu was a stark modern structure. The sterility of the abode gave it a creepiness, while within the narrative it made logical sense as it was a new building that covered up an old secret. The Ring is neither as subtle nor intelligent with its choice of cabin. This dilapidated old spooky ramshackler looks far older and weather torn than its fifty years age gives it credit for.
Verbinski has taken a taut premise and grafted a generic Hollywood slasher’s mise-en-scène to it. The jump cut shocks and the introduction of a living threat in Brian Cox’s horse farmer are similarly additions that have more to do with satisfying a Carpenter/Craven reared audience’s expectations from a horror film than what is actually necessary. So what was universally effective in the original is often here, like sherbet, noticeably artificial. The Ring delivers more traditional scares, none especially impressive, while fluffing the more inventive aspects of Nakata’s vision. The ominous announcement of the passing days in the original made for a bone chilling countdown, the reproduction never even seems to keep an eye on the clock. Sadako’s emergence from the television was a physical effect that gave her a cinematic otherworldliness unseen since Freddie Kruger’s initial nightmares. Five years later and her Hollywood counterpart Samara (Daveigh Chase) is merely a flat image that has clearly originated from a few hours play PC software.
The Ring is an acceptable simulacrum. To accuse it of merely being a poor rip-off of the original ignores three things: Firstly, Naomi Watt’s ballsy turn that confirms her abilities shown in Mullholland Dr. (2001). The pity is that here the performances around her are so disposable and the lack of decent material the second hour affords her. Secondly, Verbinski frequently gives a conspiratorial wink that he knows what his film is and wryly alludes to its origins; an Asian store clerk telling Noah he is going to die, the Japanese script that hangs from the bookcase and the significant maple tree that is distinctly oriental in origin. One hopes this can make up for the absence of credits for Nakata and his source material’s author, Koji Suzuki, on the final cut. Thirdly, the fact that Nakata’s Ringu was not created in a vacuum to begin with. His opening sequence echoed Scream’s (1996) famous first scene and Suzuki’s book had been adapted before for television. Although how influenced Dreamworks were by Ring: Kanzen-ban (1995) featuring a naked Sadako is hard to detect.