The success of the 1998 Japanese film meant it was only a matter of time before Hollywood wanted to have their own take on it. The American remake is perhaps the most well-known take on the story to western audiences. It was a big box office success in 2002, and kicked off a brief series of remakes by Hollywood of Asian horror films like The Grudge. The film follows the basic plot beats of the original, but does create its own story along the way. It feels like a mixture of Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock, paying tribute to both horror icons along the way. The film was directed by Gore Verbinski, and written Ehren Kruger, who would also write the sequel, and then go on to pen three of the Transformers films.
The protagonist is Rachel Keller, played by Naomi Watts, who has the same role as Reiko Asakawa. She is a bit more blunt and straightforward in her opinions and views, coming across as a dedicated mother to her son Aidan (David Dorfman). Her niece Katie dies at the start of the film, in a well-paced and creepy prologue. In the Japanese film, Tomoko just sees the TV on, turns it off, and leaves before dying. Here, the creepy factor goes up to eleven, building up the tension until the sudden shock scare that follows.
Aidan himself is quite creepy, speaking in a montone voice, and provides cryptic information for his mother, but for some reason, withdraws the really vital details until the end of the film. He reminds me of Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense. Rachel goes to the campsite where she watches the tape, meeting the weird innkeeper, and the whole camp is grungy and eerie like Camp Crystal Lake in Friday the 13th.
The videotape itself is quite haunting and surreal, with a David Cronenberg feel to it, focusing on freaky imagery, which relate more to Samara Morgan’s backstory than the more abstract, symbolic content of Sadako’s version. Admittedly, the high-pitched noises are a little grating on the ears, and the video doesn’t have the proper, grainy quality you would see on an actual tape. But they did come from Samara’s mind, so perhaps realism doesn’t matter. The video also has hidden imagery, and there’s even a creative scene where Rachel pauses the tape, and a fly in the video is still moving around, Rachel then plucking it right out of the screen. Most people would probably freak out about it, but Rachel stares in awe.
She eventually teams up with her ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson), who has a bit more of a personal relationship with his son Aidan, rather than the distant Ryuji has with his child. Samara herself remains the highlight of the film. She is played by Daveigh Chase, who starred in Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away. She is physically based on Sadako’s evil twin from Ring 0. Daveigh is amazing as Samara despite the limited screen time. One of the best moments is when the script twists the audience’s perceptions. Throughout the film, Samara is depicted as an innocent victim, but in the closing moments of the film, it is implies she may be an actual sociopath and wants humanity to suffer.
The film maintains a depressing atmosphere, and throughout, it is tinted slightly blue. I quite like this little touch. The scares are a mixture of psychological, atmospheric, with a little bit of a gore and occasionally, a couple of unnecessary jump scares. There is a pretty shocking scene where a horse panics in front of Rachel and falls off the side of a ferry, and is dragged under it. Another scene involves Samara’s father, played by Brian Cox, committing suicide in a bathtub. The film can be pretty graphic when it wants to be. The iconic scene where Samara crawls out of the TV is a little bit quicker than the Japanese version, but still has that sense of dread about it. The make up by legendary Rick Baker is phenomenal, adding to the creepy elements of the film.
The film pays several nods to Hitchcock, certain cinematography feeling very much like they are plucked straight out of his movies. One scene pays homage to Rear Window, and another to the shower scene in Psycho. Brian Cox’s character also reminds me a bit of Raymond Burr in Rear Window. The cinematography in all is pretty good, and the larger budget allows for more better lighting and effects. The score by Hans Zimmer is unnerving yet melancholic.
The Ring is a fantastic film in many ways, but the Japanese film is slightly better, offering more subtle scares and doesn’t resort to the clichés of modern western horror films. The acting is great all around, the tone and music set the mood, the cinematography is excellent, I love Samara, and even the weird blue tint covering the whole film only adds to the gravitas of the movie.