The opening is straight out of a teen horror movie à la Scream or Urban Legend. Two high school girls are alone in a big empty house, discussing this story they’ve heard about a videotape that’s “like somebody’s nightmare” (more accurately, like a bad student film ripping off Bunuel’s “Un Chien Andalou”) and when you’re done watching it, the phone rings and a girl tells you you’re gonna die in seven days. And what do you know, it’s been one week since one of the girls watched a weird tape and got a weirder phone call, and all kind of spooky things start happening around the house… Cut to a few days later as journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) looks into the mysterious circumstances of the girl’s death, finds the infamous tape and pops it in the VCR. Drrrring. “Seven days…”
I must say this is an intriguing premise. Actually, I’ve said it already, when I reviewed Ringu, the 1997 Japanese film this is based on. Unfortunately, “The Ring” is not as successful as the original, which I didn’t even like all that much. In both films, the investigation that follows the initial set-up is uninteresting and dull. Scene after scene have the journalist researching video technology and looking through old newspapers, conveniently talking to herself so we clue in along with her. Even worse is how unlikable and one-dimensioned the characters are. Rachel is this cold, distant career woman, her ex-boyfriend (Martin Henderson) is quietly uncaring and their son (David Dorfman) is precocious yet creepy, like kids tend to be in post-Sixth Sense thrillers. These people are so passive and joyless that we’re not concerned about whether watching the tape will kill them: they all seem dead already.
Director Gore Verbinsky overcompensates for the lack of excitement by drenching the film in atmosphere, to the point where every shot feels dark and damp. The skies are always cloudy and/or rainy and even when we’re inside, the few lights are too dim. Eventually, as the back story of the tape and the girl on the phone becomes clearer (though we never understand the whys and hows, which is the point I think), the film does grow some tension; the scene with the horse in particular scared the beejesus out of me. I liked the wickedly twisted ending too, even if it’s not as cleverly delivered as in the Japanese version.
On the whole, “The Ring” is not a worthless film, but it suffers from being almost all set up and no payoff. It flirts with the idea of doubling as a metaphor for the way television and cell phones deaden not only our brain cells but our souls, which could explain how numb and joyless the characters and everything around them is… But even if that was the intent, screenwriter Ehren Krueger doesn’t come close to exploring this theme enough to justify how joyless the film itself is.