'The Ring' serves up scares, artistry, little substance

by Nathan Ruegger | 11/6/02 6:00am

The newest thriller to hit the big screens, "The Ring," centers around a mysterious videotape whose viewers die within seven days of seeing it. When you see the film, most likely within two hours you will feel very scared and possibly even more confused.

Director Gore Verbinski's new picture captures an aura of creepiness with a never-before-seen stylistic originality that absorbs the viewer's attention. Yet as the mystery unravels, it unravels to an empty center.

Based on a popular Japanese thriller of the same name, "The Ring" follows Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a young reporter whose 16-year-old niece suddenly dies from fright. Using her reporter's instincts, she investigates only to discover a dark urban legend of the videotape. Curious about her niece's death, as wells as the death of most of her friends, she watches the video herself and then passes the it on to her film-geek friend, Noah (Martin Henderson). Slowly but surely, the haunting and disturbing images from the tape invade her mind and pervade her day-to-day life. Eventually it seems as if the urban legend is becoming the terrible truth. With only seven days to spare, Rachel, Noah and Rachel's son Aidan embark on a dark journey to discover the tape's origins and free themselves from its curse.

"The Ring" is a well-directed film. In a movie that entirely depends upon the imagery of a videotape, Verbinksi faithfully litters his picture with these haunting images with original style, tact and precision. In terms of screams and scares, "The Ring" comes up short, but Verbinski's greatest feat lies not in terrifying the viewer, but rather in conveying a ceaseless sensation of tension and creepiness throughout every scene of the film. The terrifying sights and sounds of this movie will stay with you after the lights go up.

Naomi Watts gives a strong performance in her first film since "Mulholland Drive." She carries the entire movie by herself and remarkably depicts the terror, tension and urgency that are so critical to the film's success. Yet her performance remains somewhat cold, as do the others. The most likely culprit for the lifeless acting is the film's complete and utter lack of character development. The most that is revealed to us is that Rachel is a reporter, Noah is a film geek, Aidan is a bit creepy and they're all very afraid.

Despite the film's remarkable craft and artistic dynamism, "The Ring" is a very self-conscious film. One can almost hear the director whispering in the viewer's ears, "Aren't I clever? Isn't this brilliant? This is a great movie." The film is so obsessed with the subtle nuances and thematic niche of foreboding that the story suffers considerably.

Not that it needs to suffer too much to become ridiculous. Admittedly, the notion of a videotape with fatal and supernatural consequences is an intriguing premise for a horror film. Yet as the story continues to explain more and more about the origins of the tape ad nauseum, essentially nothing is revealed. No moral is learned, no cause is proved and no greater awareness is achieved. Many events are left ambiguous and open-ended, and most of the viewer's questions are left unanswered. The story becomes so limited to these explanations of the videotape that the only thing gained from the story is a good handle of what creepy nuances the director likes to use.

"The Ring" is indeed an artistic triumph. The craft of the film, the shot selection, the mise-en-scene and the dream-like quality of the story will spark some interesting discussions on film theory. In effect, the movie emphasizes film as an art and consequently lacks any narrative force. But all in all, there is nothing to be gained by the viewer from this film; it simply does not convey any meaning or moral in its story. "The Ring" is a cryptically beautiful picture with innovative insights into a dark realm of the supernatural, but the film's tale is not only insubstantial but also completely irrelevant to the moviegoer who paid seven bucks to go see it.