Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox
Review by Brian M. Sammons
Now this was a surprise. This new Blu-ray from Paramount arrived on my door, unannounced, almost like the haunted video tape the movie is about. I had heard nothing about this slice of horror remake goodness from the early oughts (and for once I’m not being sarcastic when I say that, as I really did like this remake) coming out and I’m usually pretty up on such things. Then I saw that it had a sticker on it that said “Best Buy Exclusive” and I guess that sort of explained things. Best Buy has always done a poor job spreading the word on any of their exclusives. In most cases that’s ok, as BB exclusives usually aren’t much to crow about, so is this one any different?
Surprisingly yes, yes it is.
Now is it possible that you don’t know the story behind this one? I mean, the original film this remake was based on all but singlehandedly ushered in the brief J-horror craze in late ’90s to mid ’00s here in America. And out of the flood of Asian horror that followed, the original Ringu was easily one of the best. And to be honest, not only was this remake very faithful to the original, but I think it added a few things that actually made the remake in many ways better than the original. Now I know all the Japanophiles out there are cursing my name right now for saying that, or perhaps just thinking I’m the “typical American” that hates to watch subtitled movies, but sorry haters, that’s not the case. I love foreign fright films because by and large they are much better than anything we Americans are doing in horror today. But I stand by the statement that I like the remake better than the original. Deal with it.
Anyway, just in case you have never heard about Ringu/The Ring, here’s the Cliffs Notes version. There is a rumor going around a school about a haunted video tape (yes, VHS tapes were still a thing when this movie came out) that after you watch it, someone calls you up on the phone and tells you that you’ll die in seven days. A young mother and reporter gets drawn into the weirdness when she goes looking into the mysterious death of her teenage niece. Unfortunately in the course of her investigation she watches the cursed video, as she naturally doesn’t believe in the spooky stories. But after the phone call and various freaky things start to happen to her, she soon realizes that she only has a few days left to uncover the sad, horrific truth behind the video if she’ll have any chance of not only saving her life, but the lives of those closest to her who had also seen the evil video cassette.
While this remake was made for American audiences, it expertly captures two elements that made the Japanese original so damn good. First it does the creepy-evil-girl-ghost-with-the-long-black-hair-in-her-face thing to perfection. You have never been this terrified of a preteen girl before, even if you’re a parent of one. The second is the thing that all Asian horror movies seemed to be fascinated with: taking everyday items and putting a horror spin on them. Seriously, there were Asian horror flicks based on video tapes, newspapers, cell phones, computers, cameras, dark puddles of water, spirals (yes, spirals) and even one from South Korea called The Red Shoes all about, you guessed it, a pair of haunted shoes. Yeah, not all of those plots worked, but the fact that they even tried to make shoes or abstract shapes like spirals frightening has got to be applauded.
So too must you applaud this remake. In a world where almost all remakes are universally horrible, even if you don’t agree with me that this film is better than the original, you still must admit that it’s a fine fright flick in its own right. It is well directed by Gore “I made a ton of money on pirate movies” Verbinski and almost all the actors turn in great work. I say “almost all.” Sadly, I’m not a fan of child actors, and while young Daveigh Chase was wonderfully creepy and eerie as the ghostly Samara, the little boy who plays the investigative mother’s son is pretty bad. He is so precocious to the point of being completely unbelievable and so emotionless that he could be carved from wood. Or perhaps related to Keanu Reeves. Whatever the case, he’s just plain bad. No, not Jake Lloyd in Star Wars Episode One bad, but he is pretty painful to watch. Still if that’s the worst thing I can think to say about this movie, it does tell you how good the rest of it must be.
In addition to the new HD transfer of the movie there are a few extras new to this disc, however the goodies are a mixed bag and some features really aren’t that special. There is a weird 15 minute recap of movie called “Don’t Watch This” which really has no reason to exist. I mean, it only uses footage from the film and adds nothing new, so why was it created is anyone’s guess. There is a three minute special on urban legend which is also not only very short, but seems like it would be far more at home on another disc. Like say, oh I don’t know; the movie Urban Legend. There’s the very short creepy video that people watch that gets the little girl ghost all upset. The usual interviews of the cast and crew and a trailer are also found here. The best extra this Blu-ray has is easily a short film (around 15 minutes) called Rings about a group of teens who watch the haunted Ring videotape for kicks and to see how far they can take it before having someone else watch the tape, thus saving their life. This little movie was surprisingly well done and actually broadens The Ring mythos out a bit. I’d love to see more things like this end up on Blu-rays more often.
The Ring is a great little movie and has always been a double surprise for me. Not only is it the very rare remake that doesn’t suck, but it’s an even rarer PG-13 horror movie that actually has some chilling moments in it. It is the best film of director Gregor Verbinski’s career so far, and that includes all the Pirates Of The Caribbean flicks. It has never looked better than it does here and it has a few (ok, one) good special features. If you don’t have this movie yet in your library then it gets a very high recommendation from me. If you already have the DVD, then it gets a passable recommendation, mostly for the much improved picture quality.