Adapted from the first film of a highly successful Japanese trilogy--themselves based on the writings of famed horror/suspense author Koji Suzuki--"The Ring" treads in the same territory as "The Blair Witch Project," successfully tapping the creepiest supernatural elements of an urban legend run amok, generating chills and thrills via good old-fashioned suspense and the psychological power of suggestion. Eschewing the "Boo!" and "Ick!" shock tactics favored by most teenage audiences, "The Ring" liberally blurs the lines between the mystery, thriller and horror genres, adhering to a paradigm that recalls such '60s classics as Jack Clayton's "The Innocents" and Roman Polanski's "Repulsion."
Graduating from the weirdness of David Lynch and segueing into an altogether different sort of weirdness, "Mulholland Drive's" Naomi Watts stars as Rachel Keller, an investigative reporter and single mother whose research into the strange, simultaneous deaths of four teenagers uncovers the story of the videotape which, when viewed, is immediately followed by a phone call alerting the viewers to their imminent doom. Naturally, Keller's investigation becomes personal after she locates the tape, watches it and receives the ominous call.
The subsequent seven-day sprint to unravel the mystery and decipher the bizarre, surrealistic images on the tape (it plays like a sequel to "Un Chien Andalou") is where the film really takes flight, maintaining an impossibly high level of intrigue and suspense, even when it takes liberties with logic. Not that logic ever counts for much in films like this--writer Ehren Kruger ("Arlington Road"), director Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican") and Watts seem keenly aware that facts and plot points weigh in far less convincingly than high-pitched theatrics and wrenched-up atmospherics.
Though certain identifiable staples of the genre remain--clairvoyant and/or possessed children (David Dorfman and Daveigh Chase) being the most obvious--"The Ring" retains enough of its Japanese roots to still feel fresh and unique. Arguably the most intelligent horror film in many years, it's a movie with undeniably high aspirations. And while it's no "The Exorcist" or "The Shining," it does aim for the same crossover appeal as those distinguished forebears, delivering titillating, tantalizing, skin-crawling delights for both teenagers and adults, all but guaranteeing American remakes for the two follow-up chapters as well. Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox and Jane Alexander. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ehren Kruger. Produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. A DreamWorks release. Horror/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references. Running time: 110 min