You won't want to be dawdling at the concession stand because The Ring is quick to turn off the lights and introduce its terror.
We recognize the first sure sign of trouble: two attractive teen girls in short skirts are left alone in a rambling house. Katie (Amber Tamblyn) tells Becca (Rachael Bella) about a videocassette she watched a week earlier. After viewing it, her phone rang with a message announcing she had only seven days to live. Sure enough, the creepy scene concludes with Katie literally frightened to death (we see her grotesquely disfigured face), while Becca is left insane.
Cut to Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a journalist at the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, and Katie's aunt. When her sister asks the investigative reporter to look into the mysterious death of her daughter, Rachel decides to watch the tape herself. After the viewing, the call comes. Still wondering if she's the victim of a harmless urban myth, she tries one other test: Watchers of the video have their faces distorted in photographs. A self-portrait confirms that Rachel is marked by the tape's spell.
Desperate to find answers before her time expires, Rachel enlists the help of her video-techie friend Aidan (David Dorfman), but knows he and her son Noah (Martin Henderson) both risk becoming part of The Ring.
There is no scarcity of scare-factor in this film, which transforms mundane things like TV static into heart-pounding cues. Confining camera angles, muted color palettes, and a few items from the traditional thriller toolbox are precisely blended to make the images and sounds more memorable than the few plot holes and unanswered questions. Yet those very images, which include a suicidal bathtub electrocution and a woman jumping from a cliff, also have the potential to fuel nightmares in young audiences for weeks to come.
Certainly capable of maintaining a tight grip on your popcorn bucket, The Ring's sparse profanities (including one sexual expletive) and near lack of sexual content may make this a choice for older teens and adults looking for a gloomy ghost story, but falls short of ringing our approval for family entertainment.