- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Having seen the highly touted animation fantasy "Spirited Away," which wowed the Japanese, I was prepared to be even less beguiled by "The Ring," a remake of a supernatural horror thriller that supposedly reduced Japanese audiences to screaming meemies. It exceeded prejudicial suspicion; I'm not sure Hollywood specialists could bring more tedium and less conscience to the elaboration of a disreputable scare pretext.
The prototype, directed in 1998 by Hideo Nakata, rapidly spawned a horror-film franchise, plus TV and comic-book spinoffs. If I had known that Koji Suzuki, the author of the source material, a novel titled "Ringu," a far catchier handle than "The Ring," was regarded as the Stephen King of Japan, my curiosity would have been nil.
It nilled out pretty fast while I observed director Gore Verbinski's struggles to ration red herrings over a two-hour period also devoted to bait-and-switch delaying tactics. Those tactics tend to invalidate the opening sales pitch: an urban-legend wheeze that envisions the existence of a deadly videotape so cursed that watching it results in a call of doom, announcing that the unlucky spectator will croak exactly seven days later.
Despite the admirable precision of the threat, anyone already cursed with the task of watching about 150 thrillers as sadistically fraudulent as "The Ring" on an annual basis is not about to find this tease a humdinger. A ho-hummer and predictable bummer, yes.
In retrospect, the set-piece slaughter that begins the show, targeting a pair of teenage friends (one of them played by Amber Tamblyn, the daughter of the esteemed MGM hoofer and leaper Russ Tamblyn) in a suburban home, appears superfluous.
You would need a vast murder ring to start making good on the video death threats in a realistic framework; chances are the ring members would be as dysfunctional as the kidnapping gang in "Trapped." The supernatural framework eventually favored by "The Ring" shouldn't require the sort of sacrifice we witness in the opening sequence because the source of evil already can communicate with someone close to the protagonist, Naomi Watts as a Seattle newspaper reporter named Rachel Keller who specializes in neglecting her young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), while chasing leads to the depraved and gruesome.
The pursuit ends, for all practical purposes, on bleak and haunted Moeske Island, where the horse population once was destroyed by a mysterious epidemic and a lighthouse serves as a beacon of menace. The heroine contributes to horse slaughter on her way there, spooking an animal so badly on the ferry that it escapes a van, runs wild and leaps into the sea, breaking two forelegs on the way overboard. Have I spoiled "The Ring" for people who love horses? What a pity.
Abandoning the urban-legend dodge, the filmmakers poach on the plots of "The Changeling" and "Stir of Echoes." The focus shifts to communication from the beyond, generated by the ghost of a cruelly abused child, eventually identified as a former Moeske Island resident named Samarra. "Appointments With Samarra" would be a catchier title than "The Ring."
Scavengers who can't make up their minds, Mr. Verbinski and screenwriter Ehren Kruger dither around trying to decide how they want to exploit Samarra, or the myth of Samarra: victim or scourge? Or a little of both, depending on which aspect was emphasized in the last episode and needs to be undermined in the next one. They never resolve that issue, not that I consider it worth resolving.
The filmmakers also shackle themselves to a countdown as Naomi approaches her very own bogus seven-day deadline. Because she watched the video on a Thursday, her day of reckoning is a Wednesday, which certainly would justify a title like "Death Comes on Wednesday." Some of the intervening days get scant opportunity to make a sinister impression all their own, suggesting that skipping about four or five of them would be eminently feasible and laudably merciful.
The subtext appears to be groping for some sort of reassurance to single professional moms that it's OK to place supernatural wild-goose chases above quality time (or much time at all) with your child, especially if the offspring is precociously weird and psychic and there's an absentee dad on the periphery to soak up punishment as an afterthought.
Of course, people who subsidize stories as fundamentally ugly as "The Ring" need some excuse for their folly, but in context, a shabby excuse also plays wretchedly.

*
TITLE: "The Ring"
RATING: PG-13 (Systematic ominous atmosphere and morbid illustrative emphasis; episodes of graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details, including an infanticide, an electrocution and a drowning; episodes involving supernatural threats to young children; occasional profanity and drug allusions)
CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, based on a novel by Koji Suzuki.
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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