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'The Ring'

Curiosity kills as reporter heads out on trail of deadly story

Friday, October 18, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Some thrillers or horror pictures make you rear back in your seat. Others magnetically pull you to the screen. The people sitting in front of me at "The Ring" were hunched forward, not taking advantage of the faux leather seat backs at the Loews.

 
 
'The Ring'

RATING: PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images (some involving a child), language and some drug references.

STARRING: Naomi Watts.

DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski.

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Although it has a number of gruesome moments (stretching the boundaries of its PG-13 rating), "The Ring" is more than your average horror picture in which promiscuous teenagers are sliced and diced. Although the first victims are high school students, "The Ring" follows a fearless reporter as she tries to figure out what really killed the teens and if she or someone she loves will be next.

"The Ring" opens with a girl repeating what might be an urban myth: That a killer videotape exists. Once you watch it, your phone rings and a whispery, sinister voice announces you will die in seven days. And then you do.

Turns out there is a video, a 16-year-old screened it and she died -- an autopsy says her heart simply stopped -- and her mother wants to know what really happened. So, she turns to Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer and single mother Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), who begins snooping around and stumbles across a videotape with a series of odd, seemingly disjointed and dated images.

Rachel, relying on her reporting skills and some legwork from a photographer friend (Martin Henderson), tries to nail down the identity of the woman in the tape and the circumstances surrounding her life. Even Rachel, considered a little high strung but not gullible or easily rattled, begins to get spooked as she seems on a collision course with certain death.

"The Ring" is based on a series of popular novels by Japanese writer Koji Suzuki, which also was turned into a movie, "Ringu," seen by a DreamWorks executive who suggested it be remade. Cast in the lead is Australian Watts, best known for David Lynch's bizarre drama "Mulholland Drive" in which she played a dewy-eyed actress looking for her big Hollywood break.

Directed by Gore Verbinksi ("The Mexican," "Mouse Hunt") and written by Ehren Kruger ("Arlington Road," "Scream 3"), "The Ring" relies on some tried-and-true tricks to startle you, including telephones with unnaturally loud ringers and bruises that appear as if out of nowhere or out of nightmares. The pervasiveness of TV is evident when Rachel ducks onto a high-rise balcony and sees the pictures flickering on sets across the way.

"The Ring" is a thinking person's thriller, allowing you to stay in step with Rachel. It has that now-standard it ain't over till it's over ending (reminding moviegoers to never let their guard down because that's when something awful happens).

But the Seattle setting, a dark color palette inspired by Andrew Wyeth and a cast that hasn't been overexposed in this country put this a notch above the rest. Playing Rachel's precocious son is young David Dorfman, who brings the seriousness of a Haley Joel Osment to the role.

The conclusion is chilling but not in the usual way, and the whole thing seems unnecessarily complicated and grim. But it is smart, which is more than you can say about most movies designed to give you goosebumps and let you go.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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