I saw The Ring when it first came out and I remember enjoying it greatly. It was probably the first awareness I had of Japanese horror films and obviously opened the way to a number of US remakes of successful J-horror films (The Grudge, Dark Water, etc.) I actually went out of my way to track down the original film - Ringu - and they've gotten somewhat tangled in my memory. I expected certain things to happen when I re-watched it this time, only to realize that the event or character I was looking for was in the original film.
In the years since I've also read the book the original film was based on (and the first sequel, Spiral). It's significantly different and is more of a science-horror story than a supernatural one. Characters and events from THAT have also seeped into my collective recollection - particularly revelations about the nature of Sadako (Samara in The Ring).
So I was a little confused watching things this time around!
|This image from the movie isn't directly related to anything - I just liked the picture.|
I keep meaning to pick this up, whether on DVD or blu-ray, but just never got around to it. I watched it streaming on Amazon and the quality was average.
Two teen girls, Katie and Becca (Amber Tamblyn and Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover where Becca opines that TV is stupid. She then recounts an urban legend about a videotape that if you watch it, seven days later you die. Katie is disturbed, as she has watched the tape. Seven days ago.
|"Well, we're bing-watching Ugly Betty, so suck it up."|
I always like this bit because they use the standard 'teen in a house with something bad' tropes against you. Amber Tamblyn's character opens the fridge and you just KNOW there's going to be something standing there when she closes it. But there isn't. The person on the phone is her mom, not a killer. The TV stays off when she unplugs it. (A lot of these have been subverted in films since, but I vaguely remember it being of note at the time.)
Katie does die, of course, and whatever her friend sees drives her into a mental health facility. At the funeral for Katie a family friend, Rachel, is asked by Katie's mother to find out anything she can about what happened to her daughter. Rachel is a reporter and she quickly finds out that every kid who went with Katie on a weekend trip has died - and that they all watched the tape.
|And they all suck at taking selfies. Hold that phone steady, people.|
Katie tracks down the location where the kids stayed and watched the tape because, well, there's no story if she doesn't. (I admit, I'd be curious too.) The tape is a mix of mundane and disturbing images with no coherent story - a woman brushes her hair in a mirror, a fingernail is pulled off by a nail, a ladder falls, stormy waves crash on a headland. Nonsense images. When the tape finishes the phone rings and Rachel answers. A girl's voice says "seven days."
|"Seven days until we start charging late fees." Heh. Remember late fees?|
Well, that's nicely creepy! In fact, the whole movie is suffused with a sense of dread. (I don't get to use the word 'suffuse' all that often - and it seems to like being paired with 'dread.') The cinematography is very de-saturated, as if all the color has been leached out of the world. It's almost always raining, about to rain, or has just rained. The music, acting and pace are all subdued - the movie spools out in slow motion, like a train wreck you can see happening but can do nothing to stop.
Much of the rest of the movie involves Rachel's efforts to find out where the video tape came from and how to stop the oncoming train of death it represents. This quest takes on some additional urgency when her young son, Aidan, watches the videotape as well. She enlists her ex-husband Noah in her search - after he watches a copy of the tape. They scour images from the tape for clues, leading eventually to an island, an asylum, and a strange little girl who may or may not have been murdered by her parents.
|What are YOU looking at?|
Though there are twists and turns and creepy moments aplenty, the best part of the movie comes after the supposed ending. I hope I'm not spoiling anything to say that the standard "she just needed to be put to rest" ending is a fake-out. That's not what this ghost, if ghost it is, wants.
Honestly, the ending makes a lot more sense in the books - the tape actually has instructions, though the 'how to avoid being killed' bit at the end is taped over, causing much of the action of the book. It's still damn creepy in the film, however, and Samara coming out of the TV is probably one of the iconic horror moments of the early 2000's.
|Luckily I wore my brown pants.|
The Bottom Line
In general The Ring is still an eerie and effective horror film. My only issue (beyond my own confusion amongst the sources) is that the director (Gore Verbinski) affects such an emotional distance in how he frames and edits things that I ended up a little disconnected. I wasn't quite as affected as I could have been, if I'd been more emotionally invested in Rachel, Noah and Aidan. I understand why - the emotional estrangement of the characters is an import part of the story - but I think it reduces the horror a bit.
I haven't seen the sequel, actually - is it just a retread of the same stuff? (And shouldn't it have been called Rings, instead of The Ring Two?)