If you’re lucky, you’ll only stop and marvel at the vast plot holes and red herrings that riddled The Ring, and its Japanese inspiration, Ringu, when the film’s over. Until then, you can enjoy a thoroughly haunting little yarn about haunted videotapes, provided you don’t think too hard.
Ringu, Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror thriller, begins where it should - with a high school rumour about a videotape that kills you a week after you see it. As urban myths go, it’s a slight one to build a whole story on, but Nakata’s film treats it like a plausible fact, and concocted a tidy little thriller around this bit of nonsense.
Gore Verbinski’s big-budget remake is that rare thing - an improvement on the original. He jettisons the hokey ESP subplot, and adds a far more vivid one about horses spooked by a supernatural interloper. This allows for a stunning sequence on a ferry, with a poor, terrified animal leaping overboard, and Brian Cox’ utterly gratuitous but startling suicide scene. Neither does much to advance the plot, but they are, in Verbinski’s hands, truly frightening set-pieces.
Seeing both the original and the re-make is useful, since the Japanese film’s ending makes explicit what Verbinski’s remake only obliquely suggests. This major deficiency is addressed by a short film by Verbinski that cuts outtakes into a moody little study guide for the Ring “legend”. It’s probably as much an admission of failure as a bonus feature, but if you’re in the habit of cutting horror films a lot of slack, provided they skillfully goose you a few times an hour, it’s no big disappointment.
Greg Kinnear’s performance as Bob Crane, the doomed star of the 60s hit sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”, is a bit of a marvel. He works hard to excavate a bit of depth from what seems like a depthless man, a human being so untroubled by his own decline that his death - bludgeoned in his sleep with a camera tripod by his best friend - seems neither tragic nor shocking.
Director Paul Schrader spends enough time on the social and sexual set-dressing of Crane’s life - the devolution of the “sexual revolution” into swinger’s clubs and a newly mainstream pornography industry - that he might have briefly regarded Crane as a victim of his times. By the end of the film, though, this absurd notion has been discarded, and we’re left with the countdown to Crane’s unhappy death, and a film that never transcended its meagre subject.
The Grey Zone
Tim Blake Nelson’s bitter story of the only prisoner’s rebellion at Auschwitz is something of a landmark. After over fifty years, we’ve reached the point where the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust has become absorbed, even normalized, so we have films like The Grey Zone to take us in closer, to examine the individual stories and details of life in the death camps. A spectacular cast and careful, pitiless direction pushes the story towards its hopeless conclusion, but what lingers afterwards are banal but brutalizing images; we’re prepared for glimpses of the gas chambers and the ovens, but there’s something awful about the green lawns outside the crematoria, watered by sprinklers.
The Awful Truth
Leo McCarey’s screwball comedy is a seconding example of its genre, nowhere near as fast or funny as His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. It won an Oscar for McCarey, though, and that might be because he had the good sense to linger on Cary Grant’s priceless reaction shots, or to give Irene Dunne room for an inspired send-up of Katherine Hepburn in this story about a swanky, madcap couple’s unsuccessful attempt at a divorce. Lightweight but enjoyable.