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MORIARTY Has Seen THE RING!! So Is He Going To Die'!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

So, anyway, we did this thing in Pasadena the other day...

It’s always interesting to host a screening for an audience. Obviously, I’ve enjoyed being part of the Butt-Numb-A-Thon for the last three years, and I’m looking forward to this year’s as well. I’ve always been envious of Harry and his relationship with Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse. He’s able to program things with a fair amount of ease. Only recently, I’ve started working with Dennis Bartok of the American Cinematheque to present a series of advance screenings of upcoming films. With those movies, I take a look at them first and present movies that I’m afraid might get overlooked for one reason or another, or films that aren’t giant studio movies that can use the exposure. In other words, I’m endorsing those movies because I already believe in them.

On Saturday, though, we were dealing with something different. I went into the film sight unseen. When I introduced the film to the audience, I told them that I didn’t care if they liked the film or not... all that was important was giving their feedback about it. And, in the end, there’s no consensus. Some people seem to really like what they saw. Some people seem almost rabidly venomous about what they saw. How can you account for such divergent reactions to a film?

I think it’s the sign of a film that’s actually trying to do something, a film with real ambition. Look at the reaction to M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS. The people who love the movie are nearly religious in their fervor for it, and they aren’t willing to entertain any discussion of the film’s plotting or the heavy-handedness of the ending. They love the movie, and that’s all there is to it. They respond to the ambition of it, the things it tries to do. Whether it succeeds or not... well, that tends to boil down to the individual viewer. What is transcendent for one person is transparent and obvious to another.

Gore Verbinski’s THE RING is, for better and for worse, a very ambitious horror film, something that doesn’t feel like a major studio entry, and when it connects, it even surpasses the original, Hideo Nakata’s cult favorite from 1998. There are some rough narrative patches that prevent the film from feeling like a satisfying whole, but the sense of unease that builds over the course of the film is quite effective, and as a whole, the film will hotly divide audiences in the best possible way. After all, no one ever argued over a film that made no impression on them. No matter what you think of this film, it’s going to generate heated debate, as it did in the lobby of the theater, and as it’s already done here on the site.

The film starts with a scene that is very reminiscent of the opening of the original. Two teenage girls are alone, talking, and one of them tells the other about an urban legend that’s been going around. It seems there’s a videotape, an underground thing, and if you watch it, you get a phone call that says “You will die in seven days.” And then seven days later... you do.

That’s about as good a central premise for a horror film as I’ve ever heard. The trick is sustaining an idea like that for the full running time of a film. So often, horror films get bogged down in plot, or someone feels the need to make the viewer “like” the people they’re watching, or some other distraction arises that derails the thing we’re watching for... the fear. To my mind, the very best horror films are those that work not on a literal, logical level, but those that reach at something primal and visceral. One of my favorite examples of that would be Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA, a masterpiece of dread and atmosphere. That film plays out to me like a nightmare. I’m not sure what sense I think it makes on a literal level, but it doesn’t matter. The film gets under my skin every single time I see it, and it disturbs me deeply.

The original RINGU was long on mood and atmosphere and short on narrative, I thought. The character of Sadako is a powerful creation, and if you dig into the sequels, the novel that inspired the film, or any of the other ancillary spinoffs from the original, there’s quite a bit to learn about this very disturbing little girl.

But the original film? It’s more questions than answers. It’s more mood than memorable moments. I’ve heard many people talk about the big “reveal” of the original, but for fans of Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME, it wasn’t quite the shock to the system that it was for other viewers. And that’s not a criticism. It’s just an observation. There are very few truly innovative ideas or images out there, and with horror films, how much something affects you is due in large part to how fresh it is. For that reason, the best audience for this film is probably the uninitiated, those who haven’t already worked their way through all things RING related.

I’m also surprised at how divergent the reaction was to Naomi Watts in the lead role, as reporter Rachel Keller. She gets pulled into the film when her niece Becca (Rachael Bella) dies, seemingly from viewing the cursed videotape. Rachel knows nothing about the tape at first, and only uncovers it by accident. She sees the tape herself, and the film’s ticking clock is set into motion. She gets the call, and from that moment on, she’s desperate to find something, some solution or antidote or explanation... anything that will prevent her from falling victim to the bizarre curse. I thought Watts was not just credible in the lead, but also powerful. Instead of being helpless, here’s a horror movie character who takes control of her fate, who refuses to succumb without a fight. The stakes get higher and higher for her, too, as the film rolls on, and Watts manages to convey that growing intensity without giving in to hysteria. I think this is the confirmation that MULHOLLAND DRIVE wasn’t some fluke. She’s not only stunning... she’s strong.

I like that this isn’t just a case of slapping together the usual suspects in an effort to create something that feels like pre-packaged horror. Gore Verbinski may have the greatest first name for a horror filmmaker of all time, but so far his most notable contribution to pop culture has been the creation of the Budweiser Frogs. His cinematographer, Bojan Bozelli, has worked on films as different as DEEP COVER, PUMPKINHEAD, BOXING HELENA, THE KING OF NEW YORK, and KALIFORNIA. The film that’s closest to this one in terms of imagery and mood, though, was Michael Tolkin’s THE RAPTURE, where Bozelli helped create a sense of unease even when nothing explicit was happening onscreen.

Even Rick Baker’s work in this film doesn’t feel like the work we’re used to seeing from him and his studio. There aren’t a ton of makeup effects in the film, but when it’s time for Rick to step up and deliver something, it’s always memorable. Same with the visual effects teams working under Charlie Gibson. They’ve all contributed top-notch work here, and by making their efforts subdued to the point of being almost invisible, they’ve managed to make the film more effective. This is not a film about being blatant. It’s about the corners of the frame, the things you just glimpse out of the corner of your eye. It sneaks up on you.

By the way... why are kids so damn creepy?

We’ve got two little bundles of nightmares in this film. One is David Dorfman, who plays Rachel’s son, Aidan. I haven’t seen Dorfman before, but genre fans are going to get familiar with him in the coming year. Besides this, he’s also in the mini-series adaptation of A WRINKLE IN TIME as Charles Wallace Murray, one of the great creepy kid characters in all of fiction, and he’s also featured in the upcoming TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake. Aidan seems to share some connection to the girl who lies at the heart of the mystery, Samara Morgan, played by Daveigh Chase. If you don’t know her name, you should, since she’s the voice of Lilo from LILO & STITCH, and she’s also Donnie Darko’s little sister of Sparkle Motion fame, and she’s just recorded the American voice of Sen for SPIRITED AWAY. The two of them both do exceptional work in their roles, and Verbinski makes sure to get maximum creep factor out of every moment involving the kids. If there’s anything that will keep THE RING from connecting with a mainstream audience, it will be the way children appear in this film. There are some moments here that are just plain grim, no matter what age the characters are supposed to be. Having the entire thing come down to the fate of children, and the treatment of children... well, it seems to be a risky move, and one has to respect the filmmakers for never backing off.

I don’t really want to get too much further into the film. I mean, sure, I have my complaints. The subtitling of each day doesn’t need to begin until after Rachel sees the tape. It’s confusing and pointless beforehand. There comes a point where it would be nice to see Rachel react on some level, even if it’s not hysteria. She gets so far into procedural mode that she seems to forget it’s her death she’s working to prevent. Then again, she’s painted as a tough reporter, and maybe I can buy the dispassionate thing. Martin Henderson as her ex, the only one who will help her figure this all out, is a total wash-out, I thought. I just don’t get anything off him. He’s a good-looking guy, and he gives good “Huh?”, but he’s boring. I wish Naomi had a real match, someone worth her time. He doesn’t derail the picture. We’re not talking Sofia Coppola in GODFATHER III miscasting. He just doesn’t bring much to the table. And I wish they’d been further along with the score. I want to hear how they’re going to use music and silence, since it’s so important to the overall impact of the film.

Bottom line is this... horror films are very tricky. They can tip into cheese very easily. THE RING manages to play serious and smart all the way through, and even if it’s not a seamless film, it is overstuffed with interesting and provocative material. I mean, the scene with the horse... on the ferry... worth the price of admission. I like the fact that the film reaches what feels like a Hollywood cop-out ending point, and then just keeps on going, killing characters even after we think we’ve reached safety. And the last note struck by Verbinski is a great one. It’s ambiguous, yet it suggests so much. It’s bleak, with a small ray of light, but even though someone is saved, they’re also corrupted, so what true victory can there be?

None, suggests THE RING, and it’s that jetblack sensibility that finally won me over. Check this out October 18th, a great day for film fans. There’s this, there’s AUTO FOCUS, and there’s PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. No two alike. I’ve seen two out of the three so far, and if PUNCH DRUNK LOVE delivers, as I’ve heard it does, then adventurous adult filmgoers are going to be in a real quandry. What will you be seeing first that day?

Aw, hell... splurge. See all three. But save THE RING for late at night, and take someone who knows nothing about it. Watching them squirm should be a delight as they face down this ambitious and appealingly cold-blooded film.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 19, 2002, 8 a.m. CST

    Excellent, very reassuring for a remake..

    by Sepulchrave

    Moriarties points are always so pertinent and well-supported that one can disagree with the verdict, but never with the argument. The mark of a balanced and reasonable critic. Also, there's an adaptation of 'A Wrinkle in Time' about? Please, somebody spill the details for me!

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 8:02 a.m. CST

    Oh, and..

    by Sepulchrave appears that I was the..erm, the unprecedented post, he of no precursor, the initial, original and alpha of this board. And I didn't mention it. Oops

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 8:04 a.m. CST

    Looking forward to it hitting the shores of old Blighty.

    by Rayanne Graff

    Oh yes, and fuck first posters fuck them right up their stupid etc. (Someone's gotta write this, right?).

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Yes, someone's got to write it.

    by Chilli Kramer

    First posters are also granny fisters, don'cha know. Remakes again, hmmmm. Wasn't there a blanket disaproval of these, or is it only when they're really dumb ideas? (e.g Italian Job, in LA). Still, a good horror movie is a good horror movie, but I saw the Mexican and wonder about Gore's direction here...

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 8:17 a.m. CST

    Rayanne - "I've got legs!"

    by curvespace

    ;) Having seen so many unessecary American remakes Im glad that one has at last come along and seemingly, at least in Moriarty's opinion, been worthwhile. I hope production on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake somehow stumbles into oblivion though!!

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 10:04 a.m. CST

    'adventurous adult filmgoers'?

    by Sheeld

    Why would only adult filmgoers like movies such as Auto Focus and Punchdrunk Love? Has nothing to do with age; I'm not an adult yet, although I'm not sure what exactly counts as being an 'adult', but I'm very much looking forward to these flicks. Cause it's quality, hopefully. To watch good movies, that's what filmfans such as I want. Whether that's Episode 2 or Auto Focus makes little difference. Mori, you of all people shouldn't make such categorizations.. But I'm also sure you didn't mean anything by it. Still, I had to speak up for all the younger geeks of this world. TK421 out

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 10:26 a.m. CST

    'Adventurous adult filmgoers'....

    by Chilli Kramer

    will go see "Auto - F*ck Us" and "PunchDrunk Lovin'". I think adult filmgoers only, because of ratings.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 10:32 a.m. CST

    When's that damn "Wrinkle in Time" coming out?

    by Christopher3

    Now that was a freaky book.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 10:57 a.m. CST

    Crystal Clear

    by Mush Mouth

    sepulchrave: gotta agree. Moriarty's commentaries (esp. this one) are cool, precise and enthusiastic. Very, very good piece.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 12:32 p.m. CST

    Reporter on the case, mass media inspired deaths? There is no w

    by ProzacMorris

    "Lullaby" is about an African culling poem that leads to many cases of children dying in their sleep after their parents read it to them at bedtime. A reporter is one of the characters that figures this out and tries to destroy the poem before it becomes part of a popular compilation, or something like that. Oh well, I guess I'll just see "The Ring" instead.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 1:16 p.m. CST

    Mori always gets me

    by el che'

    Minimum anticipation for a film + Mori's review = I'm going to see this release. His reviews are full of such optimism. Art is art. You get out of it what you put into it. And Moriarty has a passion for what he likes. A lot of talkbackers like to focus on the negative aspects of a film. I'm guilty of this most of the time. But Mori personifies the "glass half full" attitude necessary to fully enjoy cinema today. Kudos.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 1:46 p.m. CST

    Wrinkly Time

    by gakchat

    To Christopher3, I worked on A WRINKLE IN TIME, and from what I hear, it is (still) in post-production. Filming finished quite a while ago and it went through many editing revisions. The cut I saw was pretty horrible, and don't expect it to be faithful to the book. It isn't.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 1:52 p.m. CST


    by Christopher3

    Shit. Is an intelligent kiddie mini-series too much to ask?

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 3:11 p.m. CST

    i finally accept the need for spoilers

    by Hud

    as they give a review somewhere to go.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 3:11 p.m. CST

    Ring is the most anticipated Horror movie of 2002!!!

    by MentallyMariah

    I cannot wait to see this one! I won tix to the screening but was unable to make it due to the fact that I drank too many damn Mo-HEE-toes the night before and was too hungover to drive up from San Diego, but come Oct 18th, I will see RING first and foremost! I am glad to hear Miss Watts pulls her weight in the remake, after seeing her in David Lynch's twisted tale she has been high on my rader as one to watch and being a fan of the Ring films, I Cannot wait to see this one! Thanks for the awesome review Moriaty!

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 3:44 p.m. CST

    I heard people that actually got a phone call that said you have

    by Kampbell-Kid

    ...of course it was after watching GLITTER and CROSSROADS back to back. Who would want to live after that?! However, I'm sure Mariah got that same phone call after her film premiered that said she's got seven days till her career is over.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Sounds like it's a lot better than "MOUSEHUNT"

    by Bregalad_

    Okay, I'm in...!

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 4:48 p.m. CST

    Pure evil, kids dying - neato!

    by WeedyMcSmokey

    But I just can't get over the mediums that horror flicks seem to be using to snuff suckas out now. Colour me a traditionalist (and judging by my spelling of "colour"- a denim-cald hoser) but knifes and things that are sharp are so good at killing. I like my deranged psychoes stabby. Now we're being threatened by fucking video tapes? That's like being scared of cardboard boxes. Or better yet, Feardotcom - be afraid... of the internet! Well, at least that's current. With Ring, what with DVD and all, we won't have to fear video tape at all soon. I can just see the "home for retired evil doers" scene: "Yeah I had it great, kids were watching the tape and dying, it was spreading all over, then...The fuckers stopped buying VCRs. After that I couldn't get arrested in this town." That's a good idea for a Tick-style super villan - a guy who can posion the minds of the yound, but only through dated technology - like eight-tracks, and AM radio. Not quite Sar-Castro, but I'm just riffing here.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 5:02 p.m. CST


    by The Feral Kid

    Great thing about it, the main character becomes addictive to the power of the tome - so instead of destroying it, he hides it and uses it for his own bidding. I could see other writers coming up with the poem killing people, making a thriller out of the race to destroy the poem. Instead, we've got Palahniuk writing this, pushing the limits. Yeah, he's not the most high minded of writers but he's the closest thing around to Vonnegut right now. He's not there yet but the man can write a hell of a story. "Choke" was easily his best yet; this, my friends, is a good thing.

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 5:48 p.m. CST

    Is this print final ?

    by Nonkel Bob

    What's the chance that they yank this one from Gore's hands and stuff in a happier stereotype Hellywood ending ? That would be real horror ...

  • "With friends like me, brother, you don't need any enemas."

  • Aug. 19, 2002, 11:55 p.m. CST

    Crow T. Robot is an ASS

    by Cock Ring Wraith

    and jerks off to porn while categorizing his star wars toys.

  • Aug. 20, 2002, 12:15 a.m. CST

    cock ringwraith

    by new_devilry

    At first, I contemplate the appropriateness of even responding to your comment in this completely inappropriate forum. I sign on here every day, as the other folks here do, to discuss and debate movies with the passion and fervor that only a true movie geek can: This is NOT a forum for bashing users. If you read the talkback rules, you will note, and I quote: "Post away, but remember: you're our guest, you're using OUR bandwidth for free, so please don't be a bastard. Blatant abuse, personal attacks, OFF-TOPIC BS, cross-posting, blatant advertising, and hate speech are all fodder for deletion. In other words, being a jerkwad loser will get you banned." Harry, if you happen upon the misfortune of reading the above comments of "cock ringwraith" (the blasphemy of that name alone merits deletion), I hope you are moved to ban him as he deserves to. Oh, and cock ringwraith, the aforementioned porno I allegedly jerk off to is of your wife.

  • Aug. 20, 2002, 2:08 a.m. CST


    by KCMOSHer

    It was an ass-fest. This review reads like ass-kissing, as it doesn't even address the concept of plot...oh, except that apparently mood more than makes up for a lack of it. Dude, I never thought I'd say this, but this totally feels lik 'oh PLEASE studios! PLEASE let us do more screenings!' This doesn't feel like a valid review of the film we all saw, as it does as much as it can to poo-poo the fact that people hate it. 'It shows that it MUST be an important film if someone is willing to argue over it!' Bullshit. If someone told me Battlefield Earth was an awesome movie, I would argue. I would not use pretty language. It is not an important movie.

  • Aug. 20, 2002, 8:26 a.m. CST

    Ring / Lullaby / Python

    by max404

    Since we're on the lethal video/poem thing: How about that old Monty Python sketch concerning the lethal joke the allies were developing during WWII? British soldiers reading it aloud on the battlefield in German who then died laughing.

  • Aug. 20, 2002, 10:11 p.m. CST


    by zigmondsrh

    This film looks great. I can't wait to see it. I just hope Ehren Kruger doesn't screw it up with his hack script. He sucks however, this might be Gore Verbinski's break that he needs.