The Ring, a 2002 American re-make of a Japanese film called Ringu, is a wonderfully disquieting film. I've seen literally hundreds of horror movies, and I was genuinely creeped out at the end of this one. I encourage all of you who enjoy intelligent horror/suspense films to check this one out, preferrably on the big screen.
For a summary of the plot, check out DyRE's excellent writeup above. Those of you who haven't seen the film would do well to read no further....
Movie Review (with spoilers)
This movie closely follows the course set by Ringu, though there are definite changes; the protagonist father is turned from a conflicted psychic to a feckless videographer, and the protagonist mother's character has taken on a hard, heedless edge. The central disaster has been turned from a volcanic eruption to the mysterious death of the Morgan horses. The Ring's plot unfolds in a less straightforward fashion than Ringu's, and I enjoyed the other changes made for the American version.
Naomi Watts' performace as the driven Rachel Keller is wonderful. This woman refuses admit defeat, refuses to give up, and that is both her strength and her fatal flaw. We get a glimpse of how her refusal to give up can have a dangerous side when she is heading out to the old Morgan horse farm on the ferry. She tries to pet a horse on the ferry, persisting even when the horse starts to spook at her touch. She refuses to believe that she'd truly frighten a horse, and as a result the poor beast breaks out of his pen and leaps to his death in the cold ocean water. This event foreshadows her decision at the end of the film to do Samara's bidding and get her son to copy the tape and show it to others; she holds the little boy's hands down on the machine's buttons to ensure that he'll do it. Her overriding goal is to keep her son alive; her act seems to stem less from motherly love and more from her fierce, stubborn refusal to lose.
David Dorfman turns in a very good performance as Rachel's son Aidan Keller. I disagree with DyRE; I think that the boy's unnatural maturity was both intentional and appropriate. His character has been abandoned by his self-absorbed parents as much as Samara was; he's praised for his independence, but what choice does he have? His mother is seemingly totally devoted to her career as a reporter and prefers that her own son call her "Rachel" rather than "mom". His father is almost totally absent from his life. He struck me a bit like the child of alcoholic parents; kids in that situation often seem unusually mature, because keeping the household in order has fallen onto them because the parents can't be relied upon. And, ultimately, Samara uses the boy to get to his mother Rachel, who as a reporter is uniquely suited to spread the tape. Noah receives visions from her well before he ever sees the tape himself. Samara needs Rachel to spread the tape; her other victims -- especially Rachel's niece, one of the first victims -- are disposable bait.
Having seen the movie several times now, I wonder if Aidan's connection with Samara is as simple as her being able to more directly influence a child closer to her own age. Aidan has dark eyes, but Rachel and Noah both have blue eyes. Blue-eyed parents can't genetically produce a child with dark eyes. This could either be a slight flub on the part of the filmmakers -- or it's intentional, foreshadowing that Aidan isn't Noah's biological son. It could be a clue that, when taken with Aidan's behavior, points to him having a mysterious parentage that further connects him with Samara. Either way, we won't know until the other movies come out.
Martin Henderson was believable as Noah, Aidan's absentee father and Rachel's old flame. Noah is talented and clever, but he doesn't have much in the way of common sense or maturity. Until the events of the film bring him and Rachel closer together, he's refused to even try to be a father to his boy, assuming that no father is better than a flawed one. Noah's fatal flaw is that he's too slow to put the pieces together and learns his lessons far too late.
Brian Cox does well in a small but important role as the reclusive Richard Morgan, Samara's understandably less-than-doting father. I really enjoy Cox's performances, and wished he had a bit more screen time here.
Daveigh Chase played Samara Morgan. She had relatively little screen time, but she was appropriately creepy, particularly in the mental hospital scenes.
Samara's character really intrigued me. She is the most restless of restless spirits -- she never sleeps, not even in death.
When Rachel and Noah discover the well hidden beneath the cabin, I thought I knew exactly where the movie was going. This same plot twist was used in the 1980 Peter Medak film The Changeling. The events of that film come about because a young, crippled boy is killed by his father and replaced with a healthy child so that his father can keep the family fortune. The child is disposed of in a well, and a house built on the well. The child's hurt, angry spirit haunts the house, but when his bones are uncovered and his murderer exposed, his spirit is also laid to rest and the poltergeist occurances disappear after the murdering father's "replacement" son dies and the family mansion burns.
But Samara's spirit doesn't seek vengeance (or at least not entirely). She had a taste for torment long before she died; in fact, it was her own mother, who had long yearned for a child, who dumped her in the well in an effort to get the evil occurences on the island to stop.
And that's the crux of the movie: Samara was no innocent young girl locked away and then murdered by mad parents. She was the fleshly embodiment of an evil spirit from the day she was born.
My own personal take on this is that Samara represents, if not an actual anti-Christ figure, then something like an anti-prophet. Many of the holiest figures of the Bible -- Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist -- were born to barren mothers, women who supposedly could not conceive children. Samara's mother likewise could not have children. Early on, the island's doctor says that Samara was adopted as an infant, but Noah later discovers a birth certificate in Samara's medical files. After multiple miscarriages, Anna Morgan gave birth to Samara; only, presumably, Richard Morgan was not the child's true father.
Samara also engages in the activities of an anti-prophet. What do prophets do above all else? The spread the religious memes of their God. Samara's burning desire is to spread her nightmarish visions through the videotape, spread the meme of her evil. If, after seeing her nightmare, one does not spread the meme further, Samara kills you. As chain letters go, Samara's is pretty diabolical.
I expect sequels to this movie will soon be in production, and I'm much looking forward to them.
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Ehren Kruger, based on Hiroshi Takahashi's screenplay of Koji Suzuki's novel Ringu
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli (who also shot Pumpkinhead)
Naomi Watts: Rachel Keller
Martin Henderson: Noah
David Dorfman: Aidan Keller
Brian Cox: Richard Morgan
Jane Alexander: Dr. Grasnik
Lindsay Frost: Ruth
Amber Tamblyn: Katie
Rachael Bella: Becca
Daveigh Chase: Samara Morgan
Shannon Cochran: Anna Morgan
Sandra Thigpen: Teacher
Richard Lineback: Innkeeper