The Ring: Smackdown
Dir. Gore Verbinski (2002)
The American remake of the Japanese classic, people watch videotapes and die seven days later.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Stylish, ultra-produced, and with a Hollywood leading lady, The Ring took the world by storm when it came out in 2002. Fun little tidbit: I saw this movie in theaters six days after it came out. Several of my friends had gone on opening night, and I knew that if I was able to see one of my friends the next day, I’d probably be okay. That being said, that made for one extremely sleepless night, not helped at all by the fact that my television turned on to static when I powered it on. Goddamned scrambled channels! Anyway, The Ring frightened all of America, and for good reason. It’s filled to the brim with unsettling scenes and genuinely good scares.
The film’s cinematography is breathtaking. There are so many horror tropes that are used to perfection, often by subverting expectations, like when the chick in the beginning of the film shuts the fridge door and… nothing is standing behind it! The use of reflections to show us everything we need to see, even if its not in the scene, is excellent. Verbinski, who has stayed almost entirely out of horror since directing The Ring, was previously best known for, I don’t know, Mousehunt? Oscar nominee Naomi Watts is excellent, and she helps pull the movie through any dragging spots while emphasizing how creepy her fucking kid is through the entire film as well. The visuals are stellar and haunting, especially the flashback of the dead girl from the beginning and the iconic well-crawling scene near the end. And who can forget the first time we get to watch “the video”? Much more polished and lengthy than the film in the original, the film gives us just enough time to really appreciate the creepy visuals before flashing to static.
Still one of the scariest things on television.
We’ll get into the differences more in our faceoff, so for now, let’s focus on the 2002 American version only. The acting is excellent, as you would expect from an actress of Watts’ caliber, but the whole cast kills it as well. Samara (Daveigh Chase) is creepy AF, and while I’m not a huge fan of the choice to show more of her than the original did, who would’ve thought that a long-haired little girl just standing there would cause so much ruckus? The film is almost shot-for-shot, through most of the runtime, with the original, or at least scene-for-scene, and though it drags a little in the “mystery” section, wherein Watts’ Rachel is seeking the origins of the terrifying tape, the scares are more than enough to make up for what its lacking. There’s also a terrifying suicide that did not occur in the original film. The film does a great job of introducing the tape, and explaining its process, in a much more succinct way. It leaves the door open to allow that the mysterious recording may, in fact, be an urban legend, because it’s told in much the same way as The Mexican Rat or The Clown in the Corner (which is fucking terrifying, btw). But we can’t escape the fact that some of the teenagers who allegedly watched the video are absolutely actually dead. As one of the victim’s mom asks, who knows of a case where a 16-year-old girl’s heart just stops?
The film has this greyscale cinematography throughout, and while this would normally annoy the shit out of me and be too try-hard, it works perfectly to emphasize the drab Pacific Northwest scenery, giving the whole film a Twin Peaks-esque vibe. The whole thing has the feel of a dark, depressing movie, and you get the gist from the very beginning that there won’t be any really happy endings. Of course, when you start killing the main character’s family members within the first five minutes, you’re getting into dark territory already. When you involve her child, it’s probably not going to get any better. The air of foreboding that envelops the film is pretty mindblowing, and it’s not just the “everything is dark” deal that so many horror movies try and fuck up. Plus, again… the video is really fucking scary. Like it or not, the visual effects and the dirty, Nine Inch Nails music video-esque videotape have become foundational in modern, post 9/11 American horror.
You get me closer to… what the fuck is that?
What’s interesting about this film is that it wasn’t afraid to make Rachel the main investigative force and “hero,” whereas the Japanese version had to make the ex-husband the main detective. She’s relentless, and once her son gets involved she won’t stop until she finds the origin and the way to beat the thing. The story behind Ringu is fairly convoluted, and the remake does an excellent job of explaining and simplifying things for its dumbass American audience. The movie also uses its score to haunting and terrifying effect, doing the Ari Aster thing well before he came onto the scene. For all its positives, though (and there are many), the film does drag at times. Even at those times, however, the film maintains a creepy aesthetic and atmosphere throughout. The kids are also unnerving as hell, with Rachel’s son repeatedly being as creepy as possible and the mentally handicapped boy in the doctor’s office repeating Rachel’s lines at inopportune moments. Not to mention, of course… Samara, the scariest kid in film history besides maybe Regan from The Exorcist.
Who this movie is for: Modern horror fans, Fans of American remakes of foreign films, People who love black and white tv
Bottom line: The Ring is still scary, ya’ll. It blew Americans’ minds when it came out in 2002, and there are scenes that are just as scary this many years later. While the film is definitely slow, and in retrospect might not be as good a film as it felt like originally, it’s still a thrill ride with a ton of genuinely terrifying sights. The entire ring video is terrifying, and it’s a slick, well-produced Hollywood movie. It’s an American classic at this point, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen it at least once. It’s deserving of its reputation though, which is considerable.