A slick and very successful PG-13 DreamWorks movie, "The Ring" is a pretty faithful adaptation of a Japanese cult horror film with the same name. Although I've seen that movie, I've never reviewed it here because the bootleg copy I saw had such terrible subtitles, it was difficult at the time to make much sense of the plot.
The remake, from a former TV commercial maker best known for creating the Budweiser frogs, has echoes of "Scream" in its opening scenes, when a pair of teenage girls joke about an urban legend of a videotape that kills anyone who watches it -- then freak out at the sound of a phone ringing. In fact, the movie was written by Ehren Krueger, who wrote "Scream 3," so the similarities aren't all that surprising.
The tape naturally turns out to be real, and a beautiful female journalist (gorgeous blonde Naomi Watts of "Mulholland Drive" fame) sets out to discover it when she realizes a number of teenage deaths might be related to viewing the evil video. Once someone watches it, a phone rings with a little girl's voice telling the witness of the film that they have seven days left to live. Sure enough, the person always die in seven days. When she and a friend watch the tape, it becomes a matter of life and death to unravel its mystery before their time runs out. Like the original, the film reminds us how many day's have passed in our journalist hero's life since she watched the tape. Pieces of modern technology (phones, TVs, videotapes) serve as the conduit for whatever evil is trying to kill her. And like so many supernatural horror films these days ("FearDotCom," "Stir of Echoes," "What Lies Beneath"), there's a ghost story mystery behind everything that's going on. Our gorgeous hero needs to find out what's eating the spiritual force behind the video -- and what is the hell the meaning of the ring she sees on the tape. Hence, the title of the movie.
By the time "The Ring" was made into an American movie, the impact of the original had already seeped well into our own pop culture. The real power behind "The Ring" is that it deals chiefly with that all-too-ancient fear every human being has of death -- particularly death that is fated. This theme was touched upon quite effectively in the teens-in-peril flick "Final Destination." It's also handled here quite well, though not quite as well. The American "Ring" is, again, a slick production. With a PG-13 rating it was designed to appeal to the same audiences that made "The Sixth Sense" a $100 million-plus blockbuster. Not surprisingly, this film also made over a hundred million at the U.S. box office. It's spooky (thanks to ideas borrowed from the original) and well done. All the actors are perfect. The photography is perfect. Everything is perfect. For those of us that prefer a little bit of schlock and a sense of true originality and maybe sleaze with our horror, "The Ring" feels a little bit too much like just another perfect DreamWorks Hollywood megahit. A horror film from the makers of "A Beautiful Mind" and "Saving Private Ryan." For general mom-pop-and-rich-kid audiences, "The Ring" is probably the ideal fear film. It even has a Spielbergian pro-family slant to it. But for hardened horror fans, it may be a solid, entertaining ride that's ultimately too mainstream. The cast is too beautiful. It's "Scream" without even a smidgen of Wes Craven edginess.
Ultimately, "The Ring" is a must see, representing a new generation of PG-13 terror that started with "Sixth Sense" and shows no sign of stopping. It also sports a kick-ass ending. Perfect actors, perfect photography, perfect direction. But it loses points big time for being a remake and for ultimately being so ... safe.