Saturday, 26 May 2012

Superior Remakes #3: The Ring (2002)

The Ring is a 2002 psychological horror film. Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) starring Naomi Watts (King Kong, 21 Grams) and Martin Henderson. The film is a remake of the seminal Japanese horror film Ringu (1998) but adapts the back story and setting for a western audience.

The film opens with two teenage girls discussing an urban legend involving a mysterious videotape, the legend goes that after viewing the videotape you receive a phone call telling you that you will die in 7 days. It is revealed that one of the girls did indeed watch the tape exactly a week ago and consequently suffers inexplicable heart failure, it also just so happens that the victim's Aunt is top journalist Rachel (Watts) and after a plea from her sister she sets about investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding her Niece's death. Rachel manages to retrieve and watch the tape prompting her to receive her own phone call to indicate her days are numbered. After showing the tape to her ex partner Noah (Henderson) and accidentally to their son Aiden, Rachel becomes trapped in a race against time to save her family and find a way to break the curse of the tortured Samara.

Ringu was a tremendously groundbreaking film and helped to not only revive south east Asian horror but also had an enormous influence on western horror. The Ring is a direct result of that influence and as good as the original is, the American remake is just that little bit better. There are 2 main reasons for this, the striking direction by auteur Gore Verbinski and the incredibly strong central performance by Naomi Watts. The original had it's own style and atmosphere but The Ring goes way beyond that with it's blue-grey palette and iconic imagery creating a fresh and engaging style all of it's own. The repeated use of imagery from the tape such as the tree, the horses eye and of course the iconic well ring create an immersive sense of empathy as you experience a little taste of the hallucinations that the characters are experiencing.

Watts is tremendous as the rather unsympathetic Rachel character, her first appearance is when she arrives late to pick up her son from school and the parenting skills just get worse from there on. This is a really refreshing change from the virtuous hero/heroine and of course draws a parallel with the fraught relationship between Samara and her mother making for a really interesting characterisation of the lead. The use of advanced CGI effects in the film has been a point of contention for fans of the original, and whilst I will agree that the iconic ending of Ringu has been given an unsatisfactory gloss here, there is one use of CGI that I feel greatly improves upon the originals effects. The fleeting shots of the victim's faces after their encounter with Samara are some of the most disturbing images I've seen in a horror film, and the grotesque lifeless expressions left much more of an impact than the originals use of a negative freeze frame.

Most successful Japanese horrors have been remade for the western market purely for people who can't be bothered to read subtitles and some have been disastrous (Pulse, I'm looking at you!). However, the way in which The Ring has been remade has allowed for the brilliant premise to be retained whilst adapting the mythos for a completely different culture, and combine this with it being arguably one of the most visually impressive horror films (alongside The Shining) and you have a truly terrifying film with enough depth to creep under your skin and stay with you for a long time.

5 Stars *****

What did you think of The Ring? Do you prefer Ringu?


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