Dir: Gore Verbinski. US. 2002. 109 mins.

DreamWorks looks set for a hefty hit with The Ring, a slick, dread-laden horror movie adapted from the 1998 Japanese smash of the same name which just about delivers the chills necessary to keep people talking about it and keep it in theatres for more than a week or two. A creepy marketing campaign which began months ago with teaser posters taglined "Before you die, you see The Ring" has built high consumer awareness and well-attended preview screenings last weekend bode for a big domestic opening. That can only drive international openings, although audiences in Japan will no doubt view it more as a curio than a must-see shocker.

It takes something special in a spine-chiller to hit a nerve in the public consciousness, and The Ring doesn't have the "it" factor which made The Sixth Sense or The Exorcist must-see movies. Nor does it have a sense of humour a la Scream. It does, however, have a sufficiently high concept, courtesy of Hideo Nakata's dazzling original, as to stand out from the average spook-fest, and director Gore Verbinski maintains a consistently unsettling mood and look to the film, even if the story often falls by the wayside.

Despite valiant efforts to create characters who are not simply human plot devices for uncovering the mystery, Australian actors Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson play supporting roles to the central idea. Imagine if there existed a videotape which, once watched, brings death to the viewer exactly seven days later.

That is the urban legend which is being discussed by two Seattle teenagers Katie and Becca one night in the potent pre-credit sequence. Only it turns out that Katie has indeed watched such a tape with some friends in a mountain cabin a week earlier. Following the viewing, she and her pals received a phone call informing them that they had seven days to live. Sure enough, as Katie and Becca speculate on the myth, Katie meets a mysterious end at 10pm as do her boyfriend and the other teens from the cabin in other locations around the city.

Katie's aunt is Rachel Keller (Watts), a brusque local newspaper reporter with little time for her son Aidan (Dorfman) and an estranged relationship with his father (Henderson). Making the connection between the deaths and hearing the urban legend of the videotape from Becca, she travels to the cabin, finds the video and watches it. The tape features a bizarre montage of haunting images such as a lighthouse, a well and a middle-aged woman in a mirror, and as soon as she has finished watching it, the phone rings and a voice tells her she has "seven days."

Frightened but still sceptical, she returns to Seattle with the tape, makes a copy and shows it to Henderson, who in turns receives a call. Together, they set about locating clues on the tape as to its origins while increasingly aware that they both have less than a week to live.

The premise, of course, is more intriguing than the resolution. Thanks to some highly questionable detective work (she implausibly identifies the lighthouse pictured on the tape, for example), Rachel traces the woman in the mirror to a remote island farm and starts to unlock the woman's life.

By setting The Ring in the gloom, fog and remoteness of the Pacific Northwest, Verbinski adds a level of intensity to the yarn which both enhances the drama and disguises the lack of clarity in the story. But that failure to make sense will be where The Ring's chances for great word-of-mouth will suffer. While audiences will go along with the film for the ride, many will resent the fact that it just doesn't add up.

Prod cos: DreamWorks Pictures, MacDonald/Parkes-Bender-Spink
Walter F Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Exec prods:
Mike Macari, Roy Lee, Michele Weisler
Co-prod: Christine Iso
Ehren Kruger, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki and the film The Ring
Bojan Bazelli
Prod des:
Tom Duffield
Craig Wood
Hans Zimmer
Main cast:
Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman, Richard Lineback, Jane Alexander