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1 item from 2002

The Ring

4 October 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

This review was written for the theatrical release of "The Ring".

For those of us who perpetually encounter bizarre malfunctions and technological stubbornness from our VCRs, the idea of a malicious spirit taking revenge against humanity through a videotape makes perfect sense. Of course, there are evil ghosts in those damn machines! DreamWorks' "The Ring", an American version of a hugely successful Japanese horror film about a mysterious videotape, is an undeniably creepy, unnerving experience that turns mundane things -- a refrigerator door, a ringing telephone, TV static -- into moments of terrific suspense.

The supernatural elements don't always add up logically, but director Gore Verbinski is firmly in control of the film's strong visuals, and an attractive cast headed by Naomi Watts lends credibility to the scary goings-on. The film seems destined for its biggest success among teens both in theatrical venues and, oddly, video and DVD.

The original film, directed by Hideo Nakata and based on Koji Suzuki's novel "Ringu", was a phenomenon in East Asia, spawning not only two sequels but a 12-part TV adaptation in Japan. All these stories focus on a videotape that, if viewed, leads to terrifying death. Immediately after a person sees the tape, a phone rings and a voice declares that the viewer has seven days to live.

The American version takes place in rainy Washington state, where gloomy weather, an isolated island and a remote motel cabin all contribute to the eerie, nightmarish atmosphere. The mysterious deaths of four teenagers, who supposedly watched the tape, leads Seattle newspaper reporter Rachel Keller (Watts), the aunt of one of the dead teens, to investigate. Initially feeling more like a murder mystery than a ghost story, the movie has Rachel backtrack through her niece's past week, leading her to a mountain cabin where the teen and her three friends spent the previous weekend. Here Rachel comes across the tape and watches it. Sure enough, the phone rings and her seven days have begun.

She turns to ex-boyfriend Noah Martin Henderson), something of a video whiz, and soon he, too, is "contaminated" by the video. But the person with the most prescient perceptions and insight into the matter is Rachel's young son Aidan David Dorfman). Not only was he close to his late cousin, but he seemingly is in contact with the spirit of a young girl, Samara (Daveigh Chase), whose untimely end is connected to the videotape.

The tape itself, a black-and-white short, has a Dali-esque quality that gives everyone the creeps. As Rachel's investigation plows ahead, the tape's surreal images, which seem so free-form and random, take concrete form: As Rachel spots this window and that lighthouse in real life, she gains more and more understanding of the tragedy that befell Samara and her only living relative, Richard Morgan (Brian Cox). Perhaps too much gets explained away. Giving literal truth to those random images robs the film of at least some of its supernatural underpinnings. The movie does recover its sense of dread and things beyond explanation by the end, however, leaving the story open to an American sequel as well.

Watts, so impressive in that other surreal mystery, David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive", anchors the film as an aggressive journalist determined to ferret out the truth no matter what the cost, forgetting that people close to her may pay the price. Henderson complements her well as her disbelieving yet nonetheless intrigued colleague. Dorfman has an extraordinary presence. The child actor's round face and large eyes seem to give off a wisdom beyond his years.

Verbinski rigidly controls his color palette, keeping even exterior day scenes dark and foreboding while playing with images that range from a fiery red maple tree alone in a desolate landscape to ordinary door knobs and faucets, which take on an unsettling malevolence. The meticulous work in Bojan Bazelli's cinematography and Tom Duffield's production design create an environment that, seemingly, plays a role in the spooky events.


DreamWorks Pictures

A Bender-Spink Inc. production


Director: Gore Verbinski

Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger

Producers: Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald

Executive producers: Mike Macari, Roy Lee, Michele Weisler

Director of photography: Bojan Bazelli

Production designer: Tom Duffield

Music: Hans Zimmer

Costume designer: Julie Weiss

Editor: Craig Wood

Special makeup effects designer: Rick Baker

Visual effects supervisor: Charles Gibson


Rachel Keller: Naomi Watts

Noah: Martin Henderson

Richard Morgan: Brian Cox

Aidan: David Dorfman

Samara: Daveigh Chase

Running time -- 114 minutes

MPAA rating PG-13


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