Ring, The (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

To describe The Ring, two adjectives leap to mind: spooky and lame. The former refers to the tone and atmosphere, which are about as good as it gets for a ghost story. The latter refers to the storyline, which is about as poorly constructed as can be imagined – a sad amalgamation of irritating contrivances and gaping plot holes that defy even a generous attempt to suspend disbelief. And, while I normally appreciate open-ended motion pictures, The Ring takes things too far by leaving about 75% of its questions unanswered. This isn't an artistic choice; it's screenwriting sloppiness, and it results in a profoundly dissatisfying experience.

I knew the moment I exited The Ring that I didn't like the movie, but the gloomy atmosphere is so seductive that it took me a while to realize why. The problem lies in the storytelling. The Ring is an incoherent mess, and the more you reflect upon it, the less credible it becomes. (Note: I'm using the word "credible" within the context of the horror/ghost story genre.) The movie seems to have been slapped together without concern about whether anything makes sense. The twist ending feels like something grafted on, and it left me with a question about which was more absurd – the revelation discovered by the main character or the manner in which she makes the discovery.

People who are easily unsettled by ghost stories will be freaked out by The Ring. Director Gore Verbinski has studied the masters and understands exactly what it takes to create the perfect "boo!" moment. The loud noise, the sudden movement, the musical stinger – they're all there, and Verbinski employs them with enough skill to apply the "gotcha!" to even the most jaded, veteran horror fanatic a time or two. Unfortunately, that's about all this movie has going for it – quick, cheap thrills. The Ring is a remake of a Japanese movie that I have not seen. Fans of the original swear by it, which leads me to believe that it must be a lot better than the American version.

The film postulates the existence of a video tape that, when watched, means death to the viewer. The moment the tape ends, anyone having enjoyed the surreal images represented on it receives a phone call informing them that they have one week to live. Exactly seven days later, they die, and nothing they do can stop the Grim Reaper. When a skeptical Seattle-based investigative reporter, Rachel (Naomi Watts), learns about the tape, she tracks it down and watches it. Shortly after being marked for death, she becomes a believer. So, with the help of her ex-boyfriend, Noah (Martin Henderson), who has also seen the tape, she begins an investigation to unravel the mystery before her time runs out. Along the way, a horrifying thing happens – Rachel's young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), sees the tape, sealing his fate.

If you were a mother who believed that watching a tape could result in a death sentence, would you leave it in a place where your son could view it? This is only one of numerous obvious problems with The Ring. The movie is so intent upon unsettling us that it loses sight of credibility issues like this one. Rachel's investigation is a follow-the-dots exercise in coincidence and contrivance, like a gothic version of bad Agatha Christie. The Ring has its share of memorable moments – the opening sequence with the girls watching TV and the horse-gone-wild on the ferry stick in my mind – but the connective tissue is Swiss cheese. And, when all is said and done, a whole lot of what has transpired doesn't make any sense.

Naomi Watts, making her follow-up to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, is suitably appealing as Rachel. (Is it just me, or does Watts resemble a blond version of her friend, Nicole Kidman?) Martin Henderson is fine as her ex-boyfriend and investigative partner. And Brian Cox has a chilling cameo. Unfortunately, the other key player, child actor David Dorfman, is a blank slate. He comes across as a knockoff of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense – and that's a performance I wasn't terribly excited by in the first place.

I don't recommend The Ring, but it's the kind of movie that could play well to small groups watching it on TV with all the lights out. At least there's no overload of gore – Verbinski has elected to go the suspense route. Unfortunately, he has such a weak script that his efforts amount to a not-so-triumphant victory of style over substance.

Ring, The (United States, 2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Dreamworks
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2002-10-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1