The Ring (2002)
Directed by Gore Verbinski

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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When her niece dies under mysterious circumstances, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a reporter with a young son, begins to investigate. She soon hears a story about a videotape that will cause anyone who watches it to die seven days later. After having located and watched the tape, Rachel, now fearful for her life, and that of her child, who also saw the video, starts to uncover the strange circumstances that led to its creation.

While the scenario envisioned in Gore Verbinski's The Ring sounds like something that might have been concocted by a group of young teenagers during a sleepover, the director has built upon it such a visually remarkable and well structured film that he has actually crafted a genuinely disturbing tale.

Verbinski has imbued The Ring with a distinctive and creepy beauty that so intoxicates the viewer that he is able to immerse himself completely in the movie's world. The viewer is, consequently, made to forget the frankly silly scenario from which the whole of the narrative is developed and, instead, is enveloped in an eery, otherworldly land where nightmares have been made tangible. In fact, thanks to the aesthetic sensitivity with which The Ring has been realized, the movie is alive with countless beautiful visions, which arouse a far greater sense of terror than could have been achieved with other, more ordinary images. The film's tableaux are made as enticingly horrific as they are by their very loveliness. The movie even includes what could be the single most disturbing sequence of images I have encountered in any film. While I will not reveal what those images are, I will say that they are made particularly sinister by their restrained, even beautiful simplicity.

The Ring's effectiveness as a horror film is further enhanced by the director's skill at telling his story. Most movies in which supernatural themes are included either explain too much or too little. If they do not give some explanation of the events they depict, the viewer is often left unsatisfied, but if they provide too many details, the explanation almost invariably comes across as silly and puerile. The Japanese original of The Ring, Ringu, I am afraid, falls victim to the second of these tendencies. The mysteries of the movie are explained at such great length that, instead of evoking an awareness of something unknown and deadly, the movie's events are made not only rather ordinary but, frankly, foolish. Amazingly, Verbinski has included just the right amount of explanation in The Ring. He provides us with sufficient details about the creation of the mysterious videotape so that we know why people are dying from watching it, but he leaves the strange powers behind those details unrevealed. The director illumines just enough of the dark form threatening us to arouse our fear, but not so much that this form is made into something of the ordinary world.

The Ring is not a masterpiece, by any means, but it is one of the most sensitively made and effective horror films I have ever encountered. It is genuinely frightening.

Review by Keith Allen

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