Posted: Monday, October 21, 2002

As I was exiting the theater after seeing this week's new thriller The Ring, I saw a friend of mine getting into her car to leave. "What'd you think?" I queried, in a transparent attempt to get her to do my job for me. "It was different..." she said. I agree. Different is quite the word for it, however, I hadn't quite got the gist. "I thought we were here to see Lord of the Rings," she said. Ouch.

The Ring couldn't be more different from The Lord of the Rings if it were all in Mandarin Chinese. Yet, that won't stop scores of people, eager for the release of The Two Towers (not 'til December, sorry), from leaving theaters all across the country this weekend. While LOTR is about a plucky band of Hobbits and humans battling the forces of evil over a relatively simple gold wedding band, The Ring is about a video tape that kills you if you watch it. There's a whole heck of a lot more to it than that, but that's the basic premise. Is there room for more than one ring-themed movie at box offices this winter? Let's just say that, while The Ring was scary and cool, I doubt Gandalf and Frodo are losing any sleep.

The movie opens in typical teen horror movie fashion, with the high school girls having a sleep over and telling scary stories. You can almost see the slasher hiding in the closet, and I was a little irritated because the preview promises a movie of higher caliber. One of the girls begins to tell a story she'd heard recently. Something about a video tape that, if you watch it, somehow causes your death. The video is full of creepy, weird images, and as soon as the tape ends, the phone rings and a voice says "You will die in seven days." You'd think this would be a real problem for any marketing department, but, remarkably, people keep watching it. Anyway, the other girl gets very quiet and reveals that she and her boyfriend and a couple of classmates watched the very video she's referring to, exactly seven days ago. You can see where this is going.

Though the opening sequence is a little amatuerish, the movie quickly picks up with the introduction of Rachel, the unfortunate video-watcher's aunt, who is enlisted by her grieving sister to discover the real cause of her daughter's death. Rachel starts digging, and eventually comes upon the aforementioned tape. Showing true Hollywood-style common sense, Rachel also watches the tape and suddenly finds herself on a quest for information and in a race against time. I was on the edge of my seat, watching those days click down and watching as Rachel's world starts to unravel under the strain. It is frightening, it is disturbing, and it is the very definition of thrilling. Rachel's eight-year old son plays a major role, which could have been a problem had he been cute or funny, but the boy has a very Haley Joel Osment/Sixth Sense way about him, and it works well. I don't know what it is, but little gaunt, dark-eyed children freak me out.

This movie is scary. I had chills all the way home. You will probably want to go see this movie with someone, and not only to avoid the embarrassment of having to make gasping comments to yourself. I had to go alone (everyone I know is sick!) and I was really frustrated because I needed to talk about the movie afterward. How am I supposed to get you people to frame out my review for me, if I can't even find anyone to talk to? And, as the filmmakers wisely decided not to tie up every loose end, The Ring will definitely warrant some discussion.

Also warranting discussion is the career of Naomi Watts, the talented beauty who plays Rachel. A childhood friend of Nicole Kidman and fellow Aussie, Watts gained a lot of fame last year with her starring role in the needlessly complex and overrated Mulholland Drive, but kind of dropped off the radar screen after that movie failed to jumpstart her career. The Ring should do it for her this time. She is very good, though I suppose you could say that this role didn't require a whole heck of a lot. Sure, it's mostly screaming and looking bewildered, but there is a whole, complex relationship there between her and her son, and she plays it very well.

The Ring is frightening, thoughtful, disturbing, and just a little sloppy. It definitely calls for a second viewing, though I doubt I'll jump as much the next time. Just remember: Go with someone! You'll be glad you did. But you'd better get out there and go soon; if you wait too long, it'll be an entire different kind of Ring that you find. Grade A-

The Ring is rated R for disturbing and violent images.

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