Terror Tape

''The Ring''

by Randy Shulman
Published on October 24, 2002, 12:00am | Comments

Bad reception: Henderson

Bad reception: Henderson

     "I hate television -- gives me headaches," grumbles 16-year-old Katie (Amber Tamblyn) to a friend in the opening moments of The Ring. But poor Katie is about to get more than a headache from her TV. You could say she's about to get the fright of her life. All because of a videotape.

     Exactly one week earlier, Katie and some friends watched a creepy, otherworldly tape, containing a seemingly random jumble of mesmerizing, haunting imagery. Once the tape had finished, they received a disturbing phone call. "Seven days," whispered the child-like voice on the other end of the line, referring to the amount of time Katie and her friends had left to live.

     Upon Katie's death, her cousin Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a hard-boiled newspaper reporter, investigates, and in the process watches the tape.

     The phone rings. "Seven days," says the voice.

     And so begins Rachel's race to solve the mystery and, hopefully, save not only her life, but the lives of her ex-husband, Noah (Martin Henderson) and son Aidan (David Dorfman), both of whom have also viewed the tape.

     The journey takes Rachel into a realm where the supernatural meets the tangible, where the unthinkable has occurred and manifests itself as pure, unadulterated evil.

     Based on Ringu, a hit Japanese horror film (in turn based on a series of hit Japanese novels), The Ring is one of the most harrowing, chilling films to enter the American movie scene in years. It's not action-packed or blood-drenched, but it is ultimately terrifying, offering a blend of psychological and physical horrors that made the Sunday night audience I watched the film with eventually scream in unbridled terror.

     Gore Verbinski helms the American version and, after having made a couple of duds -- The Mexican and Mouse Hunt -- seems to have found his calling in film. Verbinski keeps the complex narrative on track while steeping the film in a chilly visual climate that conjures up a steady sense of dread. The movie is virtually devoid of color -- save the occasional fire-red leaf on a tree, or the trickle of blood from a nose -- and it is relentless in putting us into a creeped-out frame of mind. Verbinski tells the story with spellbinding intensity, clarity -- and, most importantly, caution. He never reveals more than he wants us to know at any time. The movie unfurls, like any good supernatural thriller, one layer at a time, until we are confronted with its rotting core. By the time we learn what the ring represents, we have been dragged through some pretty intense horror brambles, including a heart-stopping scene set on a Seattle ferry.

     Those looking for a slasher-style horror film, one with cheap visceral thrills, ought to look elsewhere (like in their own Friday the 13th collection). The Ring rewards the patient; you must give yourself over to the film for it to cast its spell. Still, there are enough jolts peppered throughout to keep even the most jaded audience on edge.

     Naomi Watts, a mysterious, alluring presence in David Lynch's compelling but incomprehensible Mulholland Drive, grounds the film in reality. Watts doesn't portray Rachel as a shrieking, panicky damsel about to be put through the unthinkable, but as a level-headed problem solver. David Dorfman's Aidan is somber and intense, and has perhaps the most critical scene in the movie, delivering a line of dialogue that ups the terror ante.

     Brian Cox lends his estimable talent in a key role, and Jane Alexander, wonderful as always, shows up in a cameo that provides the movie with a moment of true warmth. She's the calm before the giant storm, you might say. Daveigh Chase gives the movie's most spine-tingling performance as a young girl all-too-familiar with the ring itself.

     Obviously, I've been deliberately vague about details surrounding The Ring. And for good reason. It's a movie you must experience for yourself. It might get you (it sure as hell got me), and it might not -- you may be impervious to its horrors, and leave, like some audience members, cackling away. But you'll never know how you'll react until you venture into a dark theatre and experience The Ring's symphony of horrors for yourself.