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You really need to monitor
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The Ring (2002) starstar

Reviewed 2001-11-02: The images on the screen are disturbing in their grainy monochrome; haunting, too. It's as if some drugged college amateur was let loose with a camera and recorded his nightmares. Or hers. The tape seems to have come from nowhere, with images not so much captured by light as imprinted by a deranged mind. And if you watch it, a week later you die: a voice on your phone tells you so. And right at the opening of this film, a DreamWorks remake of the original Japanese film, Ringu, based on a popular Japanese novel by Kôji Suzuki, we see that it's true: a high school-aged girl dies of no apparent cause. So do the friends who watched the film with her at the Shelter Mountain Inn.

That's the urban legend on which The Ring is based. And the creepiness, while punctuated by occasional jump scenes, is cumulative. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Rachel Keller is the dead girl's aunt (Naomi Watts, who I last saw in another creepy film, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., 2001). Rachel follows her instincts, locates the tape, and -- gulp! -- watches it herself. The phone rings for her. She enlists her son's father, Noah (Martin Henderson), a video geek who no longer lives with them, to parse the images and track down their meaning. But time is running out, not only for her but for her I-see-dead-people son, Aidan (David Dorfman). Aidan watched the video, too, and appears to be in contact with a dead girl, Samara (Daveigh Chase, looking for all the world like Wednesday Addams), who appears be behind it all.

They say you'll see the ring before you die.
You know what to do!
This film is not as scary as I expected it to be, nor, I suppose, is it (probably) as creepy as the Japanese original. I'm a literal-minded guy, so naturally I have trouble following the connections: how do images get onto videotape without first going through a video camera? Though necessary to show that it came from nowhere, how does a videotape not have a control track? I apologize for being technical, but a control track is kind of like sprockets on a film: no control track = unsynchronized tracking (inconsistent playback speed) = distorted images, rather than scary ones. I guess the filmmakers depend on our ignorance of technology for their premise. Yes, I've heard of ghost images on photographic film, which is another trick the haunting Samara pulls off, but in real life those images are explainable as double exposures and leaky film compartments.

The Japanese Ringu is followed fairly closely in The Ring, including the female reporter (this wasn't Hollywood political correctness). The only big change was the horses -- and I'll leave that hint to your imagination. I have no idea if the original urban legend was the creation of Kôji Suzuki or predated him, but there has always been a grim fascination with psychic smiting and idiopathic demise. He may have been influenced by Videodrome (1983), a film about video altering behavior and also reality. In it, the evil also was in the video medium. Is there a message there that video causes violence?

Aside from all that -- and granting some admirable craftsmanship in the visual aspects of The Ring, plus an excellent performance by Watts -- the evil in the child Samara seems to come from nowhere, have no purpose, and no goal apart from pure meanness. I mean, OK, you want revenge on your parents, but what did the strangers who watch your "snuff video" ever do to you? The cost of curiosity is death? In a film where everything else that goes on is eventually explained, sometimes too much, I find this a gaping plot hole. I suppose nightmares, like Mulholland Dr., don't have to make sense.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.