All that THE RING asks of us is to bide our time until the dynamite last 20 minutes or so, when all questions are answered, all patience is rewarded, and the preparations for the sequel can begin. For the other 95 minutes, we must watch an interesting premise made as bland and colorless as the rain-washed streets of Seattle where it is set.
It is there that we meet our exposition, or as it is incarnated in this instance, two teenagers swapping urban legends, theories about the surfeit of electromagnetic waves emanating from all our appliances, and makeup tips. I dont know about the make-up tips or the wave theory, but in this universe, the urban legend about a video that will kill you seven days later if you watch it happens to be true, as one of our plucky teen gals promptly demonstrates to her pal, who then promptly goes mad.
From here our thriller becomes the story of Rachel and Noah (Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson), a generically good-looking ex-couple with little in common but emotional baggage and that spooky kid theyve created (David Dorfmann, sporting dark circles under his eyes for spooky emphasis). The dead teenager is Rachels niece and, since she is, conveniently, a reporter for the local major newspaper, she turns Nancy Drew to solve the mystery of the killer tape when odd things start happening, like photographs doing odd things to the faces of those who’ve seen the tape.
She finds the lodge in the middle of nowhwere where the niece and her pals watched the tape. She snags it and, of course, watches it. Think the worst student experimental film ever made, with all the pretentious symbolism at its Dadaist best, and thats pretty much what flickers on the television. As soon as its finished, the phone rings and a childs voice tells her that she will be dead in seven days. The same thing happens when she plays the tape for her ex-boyfriend. And, because if there were smart people in this movie, there would be no movie, the phone rings on cue again after her son finds the tape in the VCR and plays it.
Each of Rachels last seven days begins with a caption of the countdown. That helps because most of what happens doesnt make much sense as far as tracking down whats created this tape. We and the film seem to be spinning our wheels in A/V facilities, dusty libraries, and even dustier newspaper archives until the wildest of coincidences leads her to an island and Brian Cox and the sort of dirty little secret about madness and death that is the stuff of such tales of terror.
The performances are as muted as the gentle rain that falls continuously in the Pacific Northwest and the colors chosen by the art director so as not to jar us too much, range from beige to gray and then back again. Cox, because he is Cox, brings a prickly gravitas to the proceedings, as does Jane Alexander in an extended cameo as the islands crusty doctor.
As someone who in the course of doing her duty has had to sit through many, many bad films, Im here to tell you that the concept of a film so bad that it could kill you has occurred to me on more than one occasion, often with the vain hope that I would actually die so that I wouldnt have to endure any more of the bad cinema being splayed before me. So when I tell you that Im hip to the concept, you can believe it, hence my grudging affinity for THE RING. It has the courtesy to tie up everything with a nice little bow, plus the nifty special effects climax of that serious wallop at the end will not only creep you out, but will also make you look askance at your television for a few days afterwards.