Gore Verbinski's The Ring is a movie that I've seen an upwards of seven times. I don't know for sure; I haven't been keeping count. But it's a film that obsessed and haunted me after my initial, eleven-year-old viewing. I even downloaded a copy of the in-movie cursed videotape from Kazaa and watched it frame-by-frame, dissecting the disturbing images in the context of the themes and plot of the film. I visited the official website that was used to promote and explain the lore behind the movie, the sort of thing that may still exist today but was a complete novelty at the time. I was consumed by the movie.
Fourteen years later and I'm still profoundly disturbed by The Ring, mostly due to Verbinski's unsettling direction and the film's superb, subtle craftsmanship in nearly all technical categories. Verbinski has a facility with focus-pulling and jarring camera movement that constantly upends any stability you may be feeling while watching the movie. Craig Wood's editing drops in almost subliminal imagery derived from the videotape, a touch lifted from The Exorcist that is nonetheless effective. Bojan Bazelli's desaturated cinematography layers the film with a sense of dread: it complements the overcast and gray Seattle location of the film.
Particularly impressive--and nerve-wracking--is the sound design of the film. Verbinski will cut from a scene of quiet to one with extremely loud noise, either ambient or one that is caused by the action on the screen. Verbinski also eschews typical transitional cuts, favoring a simple, instantaneous cut that means that you may be taken off-guard when the scene changes, which it does often without warning. There is also the skin-crawling noise that accompanies the cursed videotape, droning and echoing with a repeating lilt that lends the tape its feeling of wrongness. The tape's imagery, while certainly off-putting and at times nasty, is secondary to its aural component. The audio from the tape is the sort that will reverberate in your head as you attempt to fall asleep.
In many ways, the film is also sorely lacking in terms of character and structure. Naomi Watts does a lot with what little the script gives her, as does much of the supporting cast, including Brian Cox and Jane Alexander. Martin Henderson is particularly egregious as her ex-lover and the father of her child. Not only is his character a complete tool, but he serves little purpose in the film other than to get killed. The child actor, David Dorfman, has a strange presence onscreen, which does a lot of the heavy lifting for his character: we don't know if he's just naturally weird, or if he's only being this way because of his recent trauma.
If you think about The Ring too much, you can find plenty of plot holes, or ways that the internal logic may not pan out. But the film has an elemental power to disturb and frighten in a way that few other movies I've seen are able. I hope I can sleep tonight!