Terror tape

“What do you mean I can’t get a date with Bob Grimm? I like beagles … “

“What do you mean I can’t get a date with Bob Grimm? I like beagles … “

Rated 4.0

Actress Naomi Watts is certainly making a name for herself as queen of the puzzle movie. After David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and now The Ring, she’s appeared in two of the better head-scratching thrillers of recent years.

Watts, who should have an Oscar on her mantle for Mulholland Drive, plays Rachel Keller, a newspaper reporter whose niece and three friends have all died in separate accidents at the same time. It is rumored that the kids, while vacationing in a remote Washington state cabin, watched a mysterious videotape exactly one week before their deaths. Keller sets out to solve the mystery of their untimely demise.

In the process, she gets hold of the rumored tape and watches it herself. She then “infects” her ex-boyfriend (Martin Henderson) by having him watch it, and her little boy (creepy David Portman) accidentally views it soon thereafter. The film becomes a tense affair as Watts and Henderson race to find the meaning of the tape and save their lives.

The tape itself is truly creepy. Comprising a hodge-podge of strange black and white images, it has a definite dreamlike quality. It is reminiscent of F.W. Murnau’s grainy, black and white Nosferatu. Director Gore Verbinski, whose past films include The Mexican and Mouse Hunt, knows how to produce good horror imagery that will stick with you long after viewing it.

Various scenes from the tape show up in Keller’s travels, and those images act as a roadmap to the video’s origins. The trail leads to a remote island where horses once drowned themselves to escape some unexplained danger. Keller meets up with a mysterious man (Brian Cox) who was once married to a woman on the tape, and the consequences of their meeting are terrifying.

The Ring does a nice job of not completely explaining the origins of the tape or the images within it. In these kinds of movies, such gaps are best left to our imagination.

Watts, who once again uses an American accent to hide her Australian tongue, continues to amaze. Although she’s been acting for a while, Mulholland Drive was her breakthrough hit, and The Ring proves that her performance there was no fluke. She has an intensity that’s befitting a horror film, and the best scream this side of Jamie Lee Curtis.

As Rory Culkin managed to freak you out as the all-knowing young boy in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, so to will young Portman in this film. Young actors owe a lot to Haley Joel Osment, whose The Sixth Sense opened the door for them to make big splashes in horror movies. Osment’s going through puberty now, but Culkin and Portman have done a nice job of picking up the slack.

This is one of those films that depend so heavily on its payoff that a less than superior ending could spoil the whole thing. The way The Ring resolves its story is completely satisfying, and at times, very scary. The final scene leaves things wide open for a sequel, but something tells me that would be a bad thing. The movie stands on its own, and a continuation of the story could get tedious.

After the success of Signs, it looks like Hollywood could have another big thriller-horror movie on its hands, with a box office friendly PG-13 rating to help things along. Horror movies are hard to make correctly, so here’s to hoping the industry doesn’t get all horror-happy, churning out so-so scary flicks in an attempt to please the masses.

The Ring, which is a remake of a hugely popular Japanese film, should provide some decent Halloween-time fun. It may also cause some major fear spasms the next time your VCR goes on the fritz.