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The Ring

Year: 2002
Studio: Dreamworks
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson
Along with the excesses of the 1980's in every field from film making to finance came a new kind of horror film - the slasher - that was about gore more than the creepy 'fear and loathing' as the dictionary defines it.

Gradually, gratuitous bloodshed took over the genre, and rarely does a horror film come along that isn't about a serial rapist/murderer or human monster of some sort. Even the crime thrillers of the last 20 years have tried to outdo each other with ever grisly effects and violently insane killers.

The Ring is an example of a welcome return to what horror should be - just the right amount of blood and gore to expand the story, but primarily about the fear and loathing.

Proof again that there's nothing new in Hollywood, the producers had to remake a three year old Japanese movie of the same name. But they've done it well.

Starting with an urban legend of a videotape that, after you watch it, kills you a week later, feisty reporter and single mother Rachel (Watts, looking fresh, blonde, beautiful, and more grown up than she ever has) decides to track down the story following the death of her niece Katie (a death grisly enough to drive Katie's friend Becca mad).

Rachel watches the tape herself, a collection of silent snippets and images, hardly scary in themselves, but somehow prompting a terrible sense of dread. As soon as she does, the phone rings, and a haunted child's voice tells her she has a week to live.

Formerly cynical, now just frightened, Rachel spends the week desperately trying to unravel the videotape's mystery with her ex-lover and father of her child Noah (Henderson). The search leads them from a secluded mountain retreat to a windswept island, both of which reveal the terrible family secret behind the haunted video.

The interest and terror are kept at fever pitch. Amongst sequences of Rachel trying to solve the mystery are scenes of the sort of creeping dread that make you want to close your eyes or leave the cinema.

Unlike the cheap monster-jumps-from-closet scares of most horror, visions and sounds come at you like piercing screams in the middle of the night and will keep the faint hearted awake for weeks. And if they don't, the haunting scenes off the tape - like the little dead girl crawling out of the well to shuffle towards the camera (with the most horrifying consequences possibly ever seen on film) - will.

The plot isn't perfect - some things are never resolved (like how the tape actually came into being in the first place) and some creative liberties are taken (it's never made clear how you'll die on the seventh day and the reasoning seems to change). But this could be the definition of the word 'horror'.

Aussie Naomi Watts has cropped up in some very auteur projects lately and seems cemented as a cool fixture. And who is this Gore Verbinski? Could any director work on three projects as different as Mousehunt, The Mexican and The Ring?

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