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The Ring (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: Gore Verbinski
Producers: Laurie MacDonald & Walter F. Parkes
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Daveigh Chase, Shannon Cochran

Rating: out of 5

To be completely fair, The Ring is first and foremost a genre flick. There is a definite ideology it sticks to, that whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night aesthetic. Except here, they’re bumping on the TV set.

But at the same time that it adheres to the genre formula, The Ring also has a certain deconstructionist stance hidden in its structure. The videotape in the film, the one whose viewers die seven days after watching, is pure surrealist glory, resembling nothing less than that infamous collaboration between surrealism gods Buñuel and Dalí, Un Chien Andalou. This is the horror film getting back to its basics, that world between dreams and reality, the one not quite real enough to believe but definitely real enough to hurt you. And watching The Ring is like being in a prolonged dream state, one that’s beautiful and awful, one that digs its way into your mind and grabs you and forces you to watch.

The film opens terrifically, with two teenage girls discussing the legend of that nasty video. One of the girls claims to have seen the tape exactly seven days before. Care to guess what happens? Suffice it to say that it is a great way to get started, a jolt that’s like a defibrillator to the heart.

Enter Rachel Keller (Watts), the aunt of the girl who dies at the beginning. Intrigued by rumors she hears from her niece’s friends, and the fact that three other people who saw the tape died on the same day her niece did, Rachel, who happens to be an investigative reporter, decides to dig deeper. She does find the tape, and she watches it, and so do we (what does that mean for us, huh?). She then gets a phone call saying “Seven days,” which freaks her out sufficiently enough to be reluctant to show anyone else the tape, which she takes with her. After showing the tape to her techno-geek friend, Noah (Henderson), the two team up and begin to uncover information as to the origins of the tape, which appears to have never been made, and yet, there it is.

The investigation angle to The Ring is its only real weak aspect. It becomes a little too Nancy Drew, focusing on the process of finding the information when it should instead be more interested in the information itself. There never really are any feelings of revelation during this investigation, when the pieces of the puzzle should seem more relevant than they do.

But it’s a small flaw, and director Gore Verbinski makes up for any storytelling missteps with an incredible amount of atmosphere and a moody buildup that reaches a maximum tension level and stretches beyond that. This is a film brimming with incredible images, infused with a dread so tangible that it stands thick in the air. In a time when brain-dead and formulaic slasher flicks stand for horror, it’s refreshing to come across a horror film that really understands what horror is, that knows that blood and guts are never as scary as the words “Everyone will suffer” whispered by a nine-year-old little girl. And Ehren Kruger’s script, while deceptively simple, understands how, when said within a certain context, the simplest words can be bone-chilling. “You let her out?” Rachel’s son Aidan (Dorfman) asks at one point, and the implications of those four words are enough to set the mood of the entire coda of the film.

And in the end, despite a few theatrical moments that feel right in being there, The Ring really is more about minimalism and suggestion than it is about downright horror. There are moments of visual and aural brilliance, encircled by an atmosphere that asserts itself as a reality too terrifying to be fake. So, before you die, go see The Ring. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

—Cole Sowell


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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