Having recently watched a videotape that will kill her in seven days, a newspaper reporter is conducting a frame-by-frame investigation on the tape for clues that might save her. 

While the video is frozen, a fly in the picture twitches, as if it were alive. Sure enough, it is, and the reporter pulls it off the television screen only to have it fly away.

At this moment in The Ring, you’ll either give in to its oddball suspense or decide this ride isn’t for you. All the ambiguity and atmosphere before it make a convincing argument for sticking around.

Naomi Watts (the blonde from Mulholland Dr.) plays Rachel, the reporter who latches onto the tape’s trail after her niece’s rumored death at its hands. After watching the tape — a surrealistic black-and-white concoction that’s the freakiest thing in the movie — Rachel receives a phone call, telling her she has seven days to live.

Skeptical but expectedly frightened, Rachel enlists the help of a former friend (Martin Henderson). The problem is he also must watch the tape, and things get even more complicated when Rachel’s young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), pops it in one night when he can’t sleep.

That’s all the plot worth divulging about The Ring because the less you know about the story, the better. Much of the film’s fun is in its unexpected, macabre surprises, including one truly unsettling scene on a ferryboat that will leave you cringing.

Alas, the same holds true for the film’s third act and resolution — the less you know about recent narrative trends in horror movies, the less obvious it will seem. The finale’s explanation of the videotape is packed with more exposition than necessary.

Still, The Ring gets a pass because the supernatural spirits driving its plot are pure evil. These ghosts don’t want redemption — they want your life. Plus, director Gore Verbinski has a keen eye for the cold, gray visual murk perfect for an evocative horror show. He’s aided by chilling acting from Brian Cox, who is stellar as a mysterious horse breeder.

For a while, it seems as though The Ring is headed for horror-flick greatness. Instead, it’s a good shot of gothic creepiness with enough unsettling scares that will keep you awake.