Seven days after you read this review, you will die. Make a note of the time, because at this moment next week, you'll be sent screaming into oblivion and only a corpse will remain... It's an unsettling thought, isn't it? And it's the premise around which The Ring spins its insidious, insistent chills.
The terror for the unfortunates involved isn't just death, but the knowledge that it's coming. A similar feeling of impending dread pervaded the hearts of thinking horror fans when it emerged that the director of MouseHunt was going to remake eerie Japanese hit Ringu. "Gore Verbinski" cried the cynics. "You have got, in the words of the poet, to be shitting us!" But viewers should prepare for one of many shocks: Verbinski has delivered.
From the start, The Ring displays the same smart, savvy and distinct psychological scares that distinguished its Oriental antecedent. Two teenage girls sit around trying to out-spook each other, retelling an urban legend about a nightmarish videotape that, once watched, gives its viewers seven days to live. Soon enough, it's no laughing matter and a grisly death reels in Naomi Watts' abrasive reporter to investigate.
The story takes few unexpected detours from the original - and when it does, the pace suffers - but what impresses is the duplication of tone. The Ring really gets under your skin. The slick, intricate visuals include shots of unsettling beauty, while screenwriter Ehren Kruger retains the family and filmmaking subtexts of the 1998 original (the nod to Hitchcock's Rear Window is a particularly neat touch).
To Verbinski's credit, he's mostly resisted the general Hollywood urge to gorify the action, or resort to cheap, it's-only-a-cat!-style shocks. But there are still enough sick-trigger moments to suggest The Ring isn't for the faint of heart. Certainly there are shots that will linger with you for days - a nailed fingernail, a rotting cadaver, some twitching, severed digits (in what could well be Verbinski's homage to another recent, sadistic Japanese horror, Miike Takashi's Audition). There's a troubling atmosphere that clogs up your throat. Adults, be warned. Kids, you'll probably love it.
Talking of kids, David Dorfman impresses as an Omen-style sprog, his sombre performance dispelling any fears that Verbinski may have plonked for a Jonathan Lipnicki clone. And the other performances are also up to scratch: Watts' committed, luminescent turn proves Mulholland Drive was no fluke, Martin Henderson's sidekick brings some much-needed light to the dark proceedings and Brian Cox's cameo - albeit in a totally unnecessary subplot - stirs memories of his Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter.
Oh, and Total Film hasn't really been cursed by any psychic freaks lately (save for the News Editor), so chances are, you'll be just dandy in seven days' time. After all, who believes in all that stuff...?