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The Ring

The Ring is a serious horror movie.

It's not silly and irreverent like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, it's not some ridiculous monster flick trying to pass itself off as a horror film, like Lake Placid or Corky Romano. No, this is a serious film about serious issues, like haunted VHS cassettes and blurry vacation photos. Things that inspire true terror in the minds of us all.

The makers of The Ring want very much for you to understand how serious they are, and they start being serious right away, before the Dreamworks logo is even off the screen, giving us all a tiny little VCR-like freaky blip over the little guy fishing from the D. And we all know that films that toy with the company logo are serious films indeed, such as Waterworld, for example.

The Ring is filled with pedigree. It's a remake of a cult Japanese horror flick called Ringu (which, even untranslated, is a creepier title than The Ring), and we all know that Japanese films are very serious things. It starts actors instead of movie stars (which basically means you probably haven't heard of most of these people). It has a very complex and important back-story that is handed to us piece by piece as the filmmakers see fit. Just enough to inform us without actually explaining anything. Kinda like the first five seasons of "The X-Files." This, my friends, is a film that does not want to insult the audience by explaining everything. Rather, they wish to leave it up to us to make heads or tails out of the events that transpire before our very eyes.

Pretty damn baffling, if you ask me.

The Ring is about a videotape. You watch the tape and seven days later you die. A reporter, investigating her niece's mysterious death, finds the tape, watches the tape, and the countdown begins. Since she's gonna die in seven days, she decides to spend her last week on Earth researching the history of where the tape came from. Enter ridiculously obscure back-story. Something about a woman. And a girl. And some horses. Almost sounds naughty, doesn't it?

See, the film is so very clever, so very brilliant, so very intellectual, that it never bothers to explain anything. And when you think about it, (God forbid) it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. At no point are the Rules of the World properly explained. You watch the tape and you die. Why? Is the tape evil, spawned from some Malaysian pirate VHS tape manufacturing plant from Hell? What happens if you only watch half the tape? Really nasty paper-cut? What if you just happen to be in the room while it's playing, but you're not watching, you're too busy playing Stratego or something?

As the plot unfolds, less and less makes any actual sense. Like, OK, the girl who didn't watch the tape is now catatonic, but she has some sort of psychic link to the VHS boogie monster. Why? Spook by proxy? What, when all is said and done, do the horse have to do with anything? If all this happened fifteen years later, would there by a haunted mpeg? What about thirty years ago? Does evil do 8-Track?

It just doesn't add up. That's not to say the all-wonderful Japanese film didn't make sense, it may well explain everything perfectly. But as usual, Hollywood appears to have messed it all up. (Unless Ringu is equally baffling. Anyone want to fill me in? I don't fee like going through the effort myself. The last Japanese flick I saw was Battle Royal, and I'm still emotionally scarred.)

The Ring seems to know that it hangs by the flimsiest of premises. So in order to move the story along, characters have to do stupid things.

I hate that.

Like when one character calls out "Are you there?" and the other character is, in fact, there, but decides not to answer. This is supposed to build tension, but in me, it only builds annoyance. "Answer, you dolt!"

Or when a character does one thing and something truly weird and freaky happens... so they do it again and again until the evil is unleashed. "Get a clue! That's a bad idea!"

Or when anyone goes overboard to give us an elaborate death. Like strapping fifteen sticks of dynamite to their head when one would probably do the trick.

That sort of thing.

In the end, The Ring is mostly hype. Not a total loss (it's probably light years better than the upcoming Ghost Ship) but most of the scares don't come from story or character but from quick camera movements and loud noises. Hell, what's so groundbreaking about that?

The Ring may be worth your time, if you starve for this sort of thing, or if you're stranded on a desert island with nothing more to do than program the VCR, but it's not going to make me stop watching videotapes. DVDs did that years ago.

I grant The Ring 3 Babylons. Truth told, I'm probably buying into the hype and giving it more than it deserves, but most of the other critics like it, and I don't want to totally buck the trend.

Editor's Note:

Perhaps Naomi Watts can only do confusing movies.

The Ring
Rated: PG-13
Directed By: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox and the prerequisite scary little girl. The weirdest thing about the movie is that it reminds me of the story of the movie review that when you read it, one week later you die. No really, it's totally true. You read it, then you die. Here's the link.

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