Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 10/18/02

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, horror movies are like a box of chocolates: everyone has his own favorite kind. I'm much more a fan of chocolates than horror movies, but of this film genre, I think my favorite kind is The Ring. While some folks like them full of screams, jumps, and dripping knives, this movie captures the essence of horror in my idea of it. It is subtle, quiet, and deeply enigmatic, like a disturbing dream. To me, this is much more effective than special effects that beat you over the head. The acting is sufficient, not spectacular, but that is not really required if you have a director who can evoke the proper imagery. Gore Verbinski, the director behind such an eclectic list of films as the farcical 1997 children's comedy Mouse Hunt and last year's comedy-drama The Mexican, fits that description. Verbinski takes a mediocre concept (from the novel by Kôji Suzuki, adapted by screenwriter Ehren Kruger, using some elements from Hiroshi Takahashi's screenplay for the 1998 Japanese version called Ringu), and a fair but relatively unknown cast (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive, and Martin Henderson, Windtalkers), and uses his talent for creepy visual artistry to make it an effective horror film.

The only unfortunate thing about this movie is its clear similarity, in plot, to the much inferior August release Fear Dot Com. In that film, it was a website that killed its viewers, and it did so within 48 hours. This time it's a video, and it gives them a full week. But both movies have a scary little girl, both have the victims seeing hallucinations and bleeding from the nose, and both have a man and a woman trying to figure it all out before they both become the next members of the six-foot-under club. The close conjunction of the two films' release dates eliminates any speculation that one is an imitation of the other, but it doesn't help to look like a copycat. Unfortunately for Verbinski and company, this is the result.

The story starts when a Seattle teen (Amber Tamblyn) and her three friends all die horrible deaths exactly at the same time, exactly 7 days after watching a weird videotape. The girl's aunt, Rachel Keller (Watts), a reporter for a local newspaper, investigates the case and watches the tape, a short video full of unexplained images like dead horses, a burning tree, and a comely woman (Shannon Cochran) who looks in a mirror and is later seen leaping off a cliff. Immediately after the film ends, Rachel receives a phone call with an ominous voice saying, "You have seven days." She calls her ex-lover, a telecommunications expert named Noah (Henderson), and reluctantly shows it to him. Then the phone rings again.

As the days count down from the moment of Rachel's viewing, she and Noah begin a frantic investigation of what the images could mean and who it is making the phone calls. During this period, they meet Richard Morgan (Brian Cox), the widower of the woman in the video, who harbors a dark secret. But the tension really gets high when Rachel's little boy (David Dorfman) watches the tape and gets his call.

The Ring (whose title, in the midst of Lord Of The Rings -mania, also looks unfortunately derivative) certainly contains many stock elements of the genre, like creepy images seen in mirrors, sleep-deprived zombie types that refuse to die, and red herrings, but somehow, director Verbinski is able to rise above the stereotypical material and craft a truly disturbing film, helped in no small part by the haunting, beautiful musical score by Hans Zimmer. It's not quite up to the quality of the star-studded Hannibal Lecter film Red Dragon, but it generally succeeds more than it fails. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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