Several years ago at a friend's house (I don't even remember whose), we were bored and said friend suggested we watch a famous Japanese horror film that came out a year earlier. Little did I know then that a few years later Hollywood would catch on and I'd be seated in some theater in Los Angeles watching a "remake" of Ringu. Which is to say that the film, which retains most of Ringu's creepy-crawly atmosphere, its characters, plot, and twists, did not hold much surprise for me at all. Even if parts of it are dramatically different from the original, I probably couldn't tell you which because I've forgotten most of Ringu except what I now see on The Ring. Ironic, no? Therefore my impression of this film is necessarily colored by my experience with the previous.
I will not go into the plot twists here because I couldn't tell you if you'd be surprised. Even by the time I'd seen Ringu I had heard so much about that infamous scene that takes place in the main male character's apartment that even then it held no real surprises for me. However, even while parts of me were experiencing ennui and envy over the apparent shock that everyone else in the theater was experiencing, another part of me liked that I now had time to enjoy everything else in the movie. Lots of wonderful visuals and details that I'd probably have missed if I had been absorbed in the plot. For example, the gorgeous, haunting overhead shots of rural Washington or wherever the hell that was. Foggy, moody, and absolutely creepy. I like how the camera lingers, suitably, on things that aren't necessarily horrible in themselves. Sometimes the significance of these pauses become apparent later; sometimes, the pauses merely add to the effect. Conversely, I also liked how at those times where a lesser film would have milked the moment for all its horror potential, here the camera merely passes by, leaving us to ponder the implications while the action continues. For example, the swift overhead view of Aidan's horrifying drawings or the watermark left on the newspaper by Noah's cup (I can't help but wonder now: Noah of Noah's ark? Lots of water? Yeah). And of course, Seattle obligingly lent its appropriately dreary environs to the film's atmosphere. If I wasn't surprised during much of the film, I certainly was scared. Some visual images are just too potent to lose their effect across remakes. And here is where I must credit Ringu for several memorable, ah, moments. I will mention several scenes here that might belong to The Ring itself, although I certainly could be wrong: I love the perverse nursery in the Morgans' barn, the odd television/chair in the center, the revelation of the tree, the fly on the television screen, the girl-in-the-closet, the frenetic sequence involving a horse gone berserk.
One distinct difference I noticed in the 2002 Ring is the actual content of the videotape. I recall that in Ringu, what we saw was pretty vague and blurry. The only similarity is that unforgettable frame of the well ... which Ring borrowed to a T. The "tape" of The Ring resembles much less a mental projection than, as Noah described it, an ill-made student film. It seemed "made." Edited. I really can't say which is better. The original more mysterious, the new more haunting. I especially liked Anna Morgan's inexplicably Victorian wardrobe, the shots of the tree, the mirror, the ladder, and the figure-in-the-window.
It felt weird to see everything so Americanized. The stereotypical American high school chicks (a nod to Scream, as Entertainment Weekly suggests?) in the beginning. Aidan's all-American classroom. Even Noah seemed like your average Midwestern lumberjack's son type guy. On the other hand, the American setting lent the film an extra layer of richness. What American viewers associate with Victorian garb (The Others, witch trials, persecution, superstition, Edgar Allan Poe) and isolated small towns (more superstition, incest, "Our Town," secrecy, suspicion), for example, probably provide more emotional and psychological dimension to the film than a Japanese setting--if you're tempted to watch Ringu--would. So it kind of goes both ways, and Ithink the film for the most part uses the subtler aspects of America's TV-obsessed (important!) culture to its advantage. I also want to believe that the Japanese art scrolls and kanji sheets were homages to Ringu. Here, Naomi Watts provides a credible, solid performance as a very American single mother (not so much the journalist of Ringu) with a good heart--but Daveigh Chase's "Samara" lacks a certain punch--but it's really the solid story, the visuals, and the sound that steal the movie. As a faithful (but nonetheless individualistic to a degree, if that makes sense) remake, this one wasn't half bad at all: And I'm sure the film will be worth revisiting for its rich imagery and its intentional and unintentional cultural complexity.
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 10/19/02)