The Ring

Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman Directed by: Gore Verbinski

In a lot of bad horror films, what is supposed to make them scary is what you see – blood spatter, carnage, monsters leaping out of the water at predictable junctures to eat unsuspecting victims, masked villains.  What makes The Ring an excellent scary movie is what you don’t see.

Of course the film opens with two teenage girls, one mentioning the latest rumor – there’s a videotape and if you watch it, you’ll get a phone call saying you will die within seven days.  One of the girls says she watched it a week ago with her boyfriend.  Then the phone’s only her mom checking to see if she’s home.

Throughout the entire opening sequence, you see empty hallways predictably obscured by doors, then revealed to be just that....empty hallways.  You see ominous signs that evil is afoot, but no gory slasher scene.  What you do get is a ton of thrilling tension, which sets the tone for the rest of this movie aptly directed by Gore Verbinski.

The storyline takes a quick detour, introducing the young and über-driven journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her preciously independent young son, Aidan (David Dorfman).   Rachel’s niece is the teenager from the opening sequence, who has passed away in mysterious fashion, and Aidan has been drawing some rather disturbing pictures at school (a girl apparently in a grave).  His teacher is concerned; Rachel dismisses it as his way of dealing with his grief.

At the memorial service, Rachel’s sister asks Rachel to use her investigative skills to find out what happened to make her 16-year-old daughter’s heart suddenly and inexplicably stop.  Rachel reluctantly agrees, starting with approaching her niece’s teenage friends.  She learns of the mysterious tape, and also hears that one of the other kids who watched the tape committed suicide the same night her niece died.

With journalistic instincts on high alert, one of the first things she uncovers is all four teenagers that watched the video died exactly at 10pm – presumably 7 days to the minute after they watched the video.

The search quickly leads her to the tape, which she watches.  Immediately the phone rings.  A young girl’s voice on the other end informs her she has seven days before she dies.

Terrified, Rachel forges ahead on her quest to solve the mystery of this tape from the bizarre visuals in the video, using colleagues, video equipment, and archives at the newspaper for which she works. She shares the burden of the investigation with former lover and video expert Noah (Martin Henderson), who also insists on seeing the video to help determine its genesis

The (literal) deadline for solving this mystery keeps the film on an excellent pace, and the story unravels in unpredictable fashion.  A few events are somewhat expected – such as Aidan accidentally watching a copy of the video that Rachel has left sitting out – but the twists and turns in the film kept me completely engaged until the very last scene. Nothing is what it seems at first glance – there is always a second layer lurking underneath.

Every aspect of the film works to create a mood that is despairing and urgent, but in a very organic way.  It is constantly raining – but the story takes place in Seattle. Aidan draws creepy pictures and says the girl in the video talks to him – but his spooky pictures are in crayon and he has the calm innocence that only young children can really pull off.

The ending also leaves things perfectly poised for a sequel.  Perhaps we will review that one next year – and I just read on they are releasing a Ring 3 in 2011.

Written by Jennifer Venson