Film Review: The Ring (dir by Gore Verbinski)


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(SPOILERS BELOW!)

This weekend, I will be seeing Rings, the second sequel to the 2002 film, The Ring.  (Of course, The Ring itself is a remake of the Japanese film, Ringu.)  Since it’s been a while since we’ve had a new installment in the Ring franchise, I decided to rewatch the first film tonight.

I have to admit that I had a few concerns before I rewatched The Ring.  When I first saw The Ring, it scared me to the extent that I actually had nightmares afterward.  Even after all these years, the image of that little girl emerging from the well and then crawling out of the television still makes me shiver.  But even with that in mind, I still found myself wondering if The Ring would live up to my vivid memories.

After all, it’s been 14 years since The Ring was released and, since that time, it’s been copied and imitated by literally hundreds of other PG-13 rated horror movies.  Would the shocks still be effective, now that I knew they were coming and that I would no longer be surprised to learn that the little girl in the well was actually evil?

Add to that, there was the question of technology.  In 2002, it seemed all too plausible that people could be trading back and forth a cursed VHS tape.  The Ring was made at a time when DVDs were still considered to be exotic.  When The Ring first came out, YouTube didn’t even exist.  But today, both VHS tapes and VCRs are artifacts of another era.  DVDs have been replaced by Blu-rays and Blu-rays are in the process of being replaced by streaming services.  For The Ring to work, you had to be able to relate to people watching a VHS tape.  Today, all of these people would be too busy watching cute cat videos on YouTube to fall into The Ring‘s trap.

In short, would The Ring still work in the age of Netflix?  And would the film still be as scary as it was when it was first released?  These were the question that I found myself wondering as I sat down to rewatch The Ring.

And the answer to both questions is … for the most part, yes.

Here’s the good news.  All the important things still work.  The performances of Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Amber Tamblyn, and especially Naomi Watts hold up well.  Gore Verbinski’s direction is still effective and, as I rewatched the film, I was surprised to see how many odd and quirky details that Verbinski managed to work into the film.  (I especially enjoyed the magic-obsessed desk clerk.)  The cursed video was still creepy and compulsively watchable and I still felt uneasy while watching Anna Morgan (played by Shannon Cochran) comb her hair in that mirror.  Even more importantly, the little girl in the well, Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), was still incredibly frightening.

Admittedly, The Ring is dated and some of its effectiveness has been diluted by imitation.  Unfortunately, that’s something that happens with any financially successful horror film.  Beyond that, as effective as the entire film was, there were parts of The Ring that did feel undeniably silly.  There’s a lengthy scene in which Naomi Watts, while on a ferry, attempts to talk to a horse and the horse reacts by jumping into the ocean.  I understand that the scene was probably meant to establish that, as a result of watching that videotape, Watts was now cursed.  But, still, I kept wondering why Watts was bothering the horse in the first place.  I mean, I love horses too but I know better than to disturb one while on a ferry.  As well, the film’s opening sequence — in which Amber Tamblyn is menaced and ultimately killed by Samara — no longer felt as effective as it did when I first saw it, largely due to the fact that it’s been copied by so many other horror films.  Imitation may be the ultimate compliment but it does tend to dilute the effectiveness of horror.

But, in the end, The Ring held up well enough.  The film’s storyline — characters watch a cursed video tape and then, seven days later, are killed by Samara — was simple but enjoyable.  And, when David Dorfman delivered his classic line: “No.  You weren’t supposed to help her,” I still felt a chill run down my spine.

Will Rings hold up as well as The Ring?

I’ll find out this weekend!

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Film Review: Everest (dir by Baltasar Kormákur)


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If I wasn’t already scared of heights, I definitely would be after seeing Everest.

Based on a true story, Everest tells the story of two expeditions attempting to climb to the top of Mt. Everest.  One expedition is led by a New Zealander named Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), an experienced climber who, we’re told, pretty much invented the entire industry of taking commercial expeditions up to the top of Mt. Everest.  Criticized by some for being a “hand holder” who gets too emotionally involved with his clients and, as a result, cheapens the Everest “experience” by helping weaker clients make it to the top of the summit, Rob is married to a fellow climber, Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley).  While Rob tries to lead his clients to the highest place on Earth, the pregnant Jan stays home and waits for his return.

The other expedition is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).  Scott and Rob are friendly rivals, with Scott taking a much more hands off approach to his clients.  (It’s not a coincidence that Rob’s company is called Adventure Consultants while Scott works for Mountain Madness.)

Everest details what happens when the two expeditions are both caught in a sudden blizzard and find themselves trapped at the top of Everest.  The rest of the film is about the attempts of a stranded few to make it back to civilization.  A few make it, though not without suffering a good deal of pain and, in one particularly case, sacrificing a few body parts as a result.  Tragically, several others fall victim to the whims of nature, some dying of hypothermia while others, hallucinating from the lack of oxygen, literally walk off the side of the mountain.

Everest is one of those films where men die tragically but we’re supposed to find some sort of comfort from the fact that they died doing what they loved.  To be honest, I usually have a hard time buying into these type of narratives.  For instance, I love shopping but I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy for me if I died while looking for a new purse.  (In fact, that’d probably upset me if not for the fact that I’d be too dead to know about it.)  At the same time, guys seems to love movies like this and I think, in the future, Everest will probably be remembered for being the epitome of a guy movie.

And that’s not meant to be a criticism on my part!  Everest does what it does with a lot of skill and confidence.  It’s an exciting film that, once the disaster hits, will leave you breathless.  And yes, at the end of the film, I did shed a tear or two.  Narratively, there’s really not a surprising moment to be found in the entire film.  I went into Everest not even knowing it was a true story and I was still able to guess who would survive and who would not.  But Everest‘s amazing visuals make up for the predictable narrative.  The term “visually stunning” is probably overused (especially by me!) but Everest is truly a visually stunning film.  For someone like me — who has asthma, a huge fear of heights, and who lives in North Texas (where, regardless of what you may see in the movies, the land is remarkably flat) — Everest is probably as close as I’ll ever get to climbing a mountain.

I should also mention that it never ceases to amaze me that Josh Brolin was born in Santa Monica, California because, on the basis of this film and No Country For Old Men, he is one of the most convincing Texans to appear in the movies.  In this film, he plays Beck Weathers, a Dallas doctor who is a member of Rob’s expedition team.  Usually, of course, if a Texan (especially one who is specifically identified as being a Republican, as Beck is at the beginning of a film) shows up in a movie, you know he’s going to end up being the villain.  Fortunately, Everest was based on a true story and, as a result, Beck turned out to be one of the most compelling characters in the film.  (If you know the story behind the film, you already knew that.  However, I went into Everest blind.)  Josh Brolin brings a lot of strength to his role and to the film overall.

Everest may predictable but it’s still an exciting film.  Make sure that you have someone beside you to whom you can hold on and that you see it in 3D!

Film Review: Devil’s Knot (dir by Atom Egoyan)


After having spent close to a year hearing only negative things about it, I finally watched Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot last night.  On the basis of what a lot of critics had said about the film, I have to admit that I was mostly watching it to see if I needed to include it on my upcoming list of the 16 worst films of 2014.

But you know what?

Devil’s Knot really isn’t a bad film.  It’s just an extremely unnecessary one.

Devil’s Knot opens with a title card that reads, “Based on a true story.”  Honestly, the title card could have just as easily read, “Based on a true story and if you doubt it, there’s four other movies you can watch.”  The trial, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment of the West Memphis Three is perhaps the most famous miscarriage of justice in recent history precisely because so many documentaries have been made about it.  Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost Part Three are two of the most disturbing true crime documentaries ever made.

(As for Paradise Last Part Two, it displays a stunning lack of self-awareness as it attempts to prove the guilt of John Mark Byers by using many of the same techniques that were used to convict the West Memphis Three.  The less said about it, the better.)

The story is so well-known that I almost feel like retelling it would be like taking the time to inform you that George Washington was our first president.  But here goes — in 1993, 3 eight year-old boys were murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas.  Three teenagers were arrested for the crime and, on the flimsiest of evidence, were convicted.  As is seen in the documentaries, their conviction had more to do with community hysteria and paranoia than anything else.  The supposed leader of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, was accused of being a Satanist.  Why?  Mostly because he wore black clothing.

Eventually — and largely as a result of the documentaries made about the case — the West Memphis Three would be freed from prison.  (However, their convictions would still legally stand, meaning that their exoneration would be limited to the court of public opinion.)  Devil’s Knot, however, doesn’t deal with any of that, beyond a lengthy scroll of “this is what happened after the movie” information that rolls up the screen after the final scene.  Instead, Devil’s Knot deals with the first trial of the West Memphis Three and the small town atmosphere of fear and hysteria that led to them being convicted in the first place.

And — though the film is surprisingly conventional when you consider the reputation of director Atom Egoyan — it’s all fairly well-done.  As a former resident of and frequent visitor to Arkansas, I was happy to see that Egoyan didn’t indulge in as many stereotypes as I feared he would.  (One need only watch the self-important Northern activists in Paradise Lost Two to see the attitude that I feared Egoyan would bring to the project.)  Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the mother of one of the murdered boys.  Kevin Durand is properly intimidating at John Mark Byers.  Even Colin Firth manages to make for a convincing Arkansan.

But, ultimately, Devil’s Knot just feels so unnecessary.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the story and there’s ultimately nothing here that you couldn’t have learned from the original Paradise Lost.

Probably the best thing that I can say about Devil’s Knot is that it’s better than Paradise Lost Part Two.