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With: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Daveigh Chase, Brain Cox
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references
Running Time: 109
Date: 10/02/2002

The Ring (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Video Maims

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was going over a list of the scariest movies I've ever seen and cameto the conclusion that The Unknown is still the scariest thing of all.Whether it's presented in the form of shadows and sounds, as in theoriginal Cat People or The Blair Witch Project, or in the form ofghosts and demons as in The Exorcist or The Others, The Unknown morethan anything makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand up.

The new film The Ring does a fairly good job of keeping us in the dark and keeping its mystery just out of reach until the final moments. It fails when it relies on sudden shocks that provide a two-second jolt but nothing more. But an underlying current of dread -- and a strong dose of The Unknown -- mostly holds it all together.

A remake of a 1998 Japanese film entitled Ringu, The Ring borrows the same basicidea, that a videotape will kill you in seven days if you watch it. Thefilm opens with a kind of teaser, demonstrating the tape's power. A teengirl has watched it one week ago and starts seeing spooky things. The TVsuddenly turns itself on, she hears noises and she keels over.

The girl's aunt Rachel (Naomi Watts), a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, gets wind that something strange has happened and begins investigating. She discovers that her niece's three friends all died at exactly the same time, all one week after they stayed in a remote cabin and saw the tape.

So what's left but for Rachel to watch the tape herself? I was impressed that screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, Impostor) and director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican) had the nerve to show us the tape, and it's oddly creepy. It plays like an amateur Dali-esque exercise, but has a dreadful razor-blade shock value to it. We see it several times, and the chills grow each time.

So Rachel now has seven days to solve her own murder, and I couldn't help thinking of Edmond O'Brien getting quite a bit less than that to figure out who poisoned him in the great 1950 film D.O.A. Because she needs the help, she shows the tape to her ex, a video geek named Noah (Martin Henderson). Unfortunately, her son Aidan (David Dorfman) watches it as well, raising the stakes a bit.

Without giving too much away, it all comes down to a dissatisfied ghost. Rachel uses the images in the video itself for clues to find out who the ghost is and what happened to her (she's played, in a strange bit of casting, by Daveigh Chase, the warm, happy voice of Lilo in Lilo & Stitch and Chihiro in Spirited Away).

But even when you think the mystery is solved and the movie is over, it has one more nasty twist ready. It's the first time I've seen this tactic used since Poltergeist (1982), which left us relaxing for a few moments -- JoBeth Williams even nods off in the bathtub -- believing the horror was over, before... BANG!

Still, I wish The Ring had taken the idea of watching-videos-equals-death to greater heights. As it is, Verbinski has his actors sit extremely close to the TV screen when watching, bringing to mind our mothers' warnings about hurting your eyes.

I also thought about those kids who died by imitating the characters in the 1993 film The Program and about the 1995 The Basketball Diaries, which was pulled from video shelves because of similarities to the Columbine High School "Trenchcoat Mob." The Ring has quite a bit less on its mind.

But the film still contains a few moments of real terror, and Naomi Watts demonstrates at least a smidgeon of the genius she showed in last year's Mulholland Drive. It's not the scariest movie I've seen lately (Wendigo and Below are a bit nervier), but it should easily satisfy those looking for tingles.

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