Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Ehren Kruger; based on Ring by Hiroshi Takahashi and Ring by Koji Suzuki
Cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli
Producer: Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald
by Jon Cvack
Now that we’re less than a couple years away from finishing out this decade, popular movies from the 00s are starting to take on a more distinctive style. I hadn’t seen The Ring since high school, where it’s terror spread by word of mouth, with many agreeing it was one of the scariest movies they’d ever seen. Still a coward to horror at the time, heading to the theater to avoid missing out on the event took a bit more motivation than usual. While I couldn’t remember my reaction or any specific details, like most I was horrified and kept awake long into the night by the image of the contortionist girl crawling out of the television. I tried returning to the film back in college, unable to finish it, as by then the film had become parodied and replicated ad nauseam that it fell victim to what happens when transitioning out of any filmic phase - it felt boring and uninspired. The Matrix-like, desaturated greens and blues were adopted by countless other films, across a range of genres, and by the middle of the decade the look was completely played out.
Fifteen years later, the look is now associated with the decade. While the film isn’t perfect, it’s also far from what I remembered and expected, serving as much more a surrealistic mystery film than countdown murder movie. Remembering it as cheap and shallow, I found it smart and complex, whose flaws were apparent, but in no way diminished the narrative. Only able to watch the first half I had that rare experience of wanting to fight through Sunday’s bedtime and my exhaustion in order to see where it was going.
The story involves a mysterious videotape whose origin I didn’t fully understand, discovering that the Wikipedia page doesn’t have an explanation either, forcing me to a Wiki page which explained that in the original film the tape was made by Samara, who after being thrown in a well by her mother and dying after seven days, possessed or developed the power of nensha (aka thoughtography), which allows a person to burn images from one’s mind onto photographs, canvasses, or film. It was a particularly big idea in Japan during the 20th century. It therefore makes sense that The Ring would have such difficulty conveying this fact (if it even tried at all; as I don’t recall any explanation). Unfortunately, when you really think about this shortcoming, you realize how big of a plot hole it is, as we do not in any way understand what brought all this about.
It opens on the film’s most terrifying and popular sequence, involving two girls at a sleepover discussing an urban legend about a mysterious tape made years ago that kills the person seven days after they watch it. One then admits she watched the tape seven days prior, soon getting killed and driving the other girl insane.
A Seattle Journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) is hired to investigate the strange death, soon coming across the tape, watches it, learns about the seven day limit, and enters into a journey to discover how it came about and who's involved.
Similar to The Blair Witch Project released just three days prior, though arguably beginning with Haneke’s Benny’s Video in 1992, the story provides a fascinating examination of analog versus digital formats. Now that VHS tapes have officially entered into the vintage category, this film captures the format’s death nail. By 2004, VHS sales would essentially be void, dominated by the rise of the DVD. In 2002, they were fractions of home video sales, providing a fitting tool for where an apparition would render their thoughtographies. Aided in the discussion is Rachel’s ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson) who has his own “A/V” business - which is cheesy to say, but it’s never specified what he exactly does, though he does know how to slow down the playback and print freeze frames, perhaps even speaking to the medium’s overall limitations, both in quality and durability.
It also speaks to the film’s reliance on imagery. Expanding beyond Samara’s infamous crawl from the well is that of the Rachel’s determination to unravel each of the shots from the film, all in an effort to track down the truth and learn about the tape’s origin. The images transcend the infamous Samras crawling from the well, including a black horse, a randomly placed ladder, a shot aimed directly into an old mirror, a strange woman, and a fly that seems to bounce in and out of the frame. While playing like a pretentious student film (and offering the movie's most poorly aged element), each of these images eventually makes it way into Rachel’s reality, with the horse offering the most thrilling sequence, minus a bad CGI effect of it falling off the ferry and into the bay.
While I’ve had problems with surrealists like Alain Resnais and Luis Buñuel, The Ring skirts the limits of patience, providing just enough explanation before heading into meaningless frustration (minus failing to explain how the tape got made). It was exciting to anticipate when and how the elements from the tape would arise in the film, abandoning the sepia tone in favor a the dreary Seattle streets and seasides.
My largest problem involved Rachel’s peculiar son Aidan (David Dorfman), with the filmmakers appearing to be far more concerned with providing their own rendition of the Creepy Kid than plausibility. Looking up his peers, I was shocked to see Aidan topping out Buzzfeed’s ranking of the "Creepiest Kids in Horror Films", beating out everyone from The Omen’s ('76) Damien to Poltergeist’s ('82) Carol Anne. The complete lack of explanation as to why this kid acts so strange toward his mother makes the entire character seem unnecessary, serving no purpose than fitting the archetype. This isn’t to disparage Dorfman’s performance, who seems to deliver each line without a single blink of an eye. Rather, his inclusion seemed based entirely on the eerie concluding scene, in which Aidan reveals that he had watched a copy of the tape, forcing Rachel to make a copy of a copy to start an ostensible chain letter, in which the seven day death is foregone should someone else watch it.
The ending seems deliberately designed for a sequel, foregoing reason and explanation and diminishing The Ring’s position in the horror pantheon. Between the lack of explanation for the tape and strange rules which apply, while creepy in the immediate sense, upon further reflection it makes you all the more frustrated; wishing they could have foregone a few sequences in order to provide some - any - information as to why and how. Nevertheless, it’s a fun film that captures the essence of the decade, and just as other popular horror films from their respective periods didn’t necessarily make complete sense, these shortcoming - while glaring - are easy to ignore in favor of a pretty fun mystery/horror film hybrid.
BELOW: A great surrealistic which I wish they cut out of before showing the horse floating
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