The Ring is what brought me back to horror movies. Growing up I never liked Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, the horror movies my generation has venerated. They were all too real for me. I screamed when E.T. popped out of the closet and I hadn’t liked scary movies since. So, when I was forced to watch The Ring I was not pleased. The movie starts off with all of the normal cheesy horror movie conventions that have always scared me. Two teenage girls are swapping stories about an urban legend. It’s the same pacing, haunting music, flickering light, scare-fest we’ve seen a million times before. Before we know it, a short-skirted teen is dead. That could theoretically be the end of the movie right there. Movies like Scream and 1998’s Pep Squad (look it up) have been based on less.
It’s then that The Ring actually becomes interesting and more than just another horror flick. The movie combines what should be cheesy horror movie conventions with a smart and thrilling mystery story. Rachel, the main character, must solve the puzzle of The Ring in 7 days before she’s destined to die. Other than the plot, there are many things that make The Ring great: from the spare and powerful musical score to the use of color, or lack there of to create spooky shadows and dead colors.
The themes also resonate. We hold ourselves comfortable in our technological bubble, where nothing superstitious intrudes. Rachel is a hard-nosed reporter who believes in nothing but facts. Even her arty, photographer baby-daddy is skeptical of anything supernatural. Every background character seems equally unable to bring themselves to admit that anything involving a ghost or a video is going on. It’s even reflected in the shell of a city Rachel wraps herself in; and in particular one scene where she goes out onto the balcony and watches all her neighbors safely watching television. The movie also explores the depths of urban legend. The main reason urban legends are so scary is because they are plausible enough that we think it could happen to us. This is especially true when you watch The Ring at home; there’s definitely a meta quality when you’re watching a movie about watching a movie that kills you. You do find yourself having watched Samara’s entire movie, mostly in the first person, during the course of the film. It’s in the back of your mind that something might come out of your television too. God help you if your phone rings at the end of the film.
The Ring was the first widely release remake to bring Japanese Horror to America. Love or hate what came after, like The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, and One Missed Call, the movie revived the horror genre for a lot of people at the time. We got to see horror conventions from a country already known for their stylish, strange storytelling. It brought a new sense of creep to cinema and soon every film was racing to add their own long-haired little girl.
The ending is really what makes The Ring a lasting part of the horror cannon. We’ve been lulled by the rest of the movie. Everything has been building to the belief that Samara was just a mistreated child and now a wronged ghost. Our natural instinct is that children are innocent and we cling to that wrong assumption until the very end. It only makes the reveal all that more horrifying. Little psychic Aidan is appalled his mother has helped the evil presence and he’s proven right when The Ring strikes again and kills Noah. Samara only wants to propagate her death and destruction. The only reason Rachel was saved was because she made a copy of the tape and allowed Samara to live on. In the bonus features we get a bit cleaner ending, showing the tape propped up in a video store, waiting for its next victim. In the theatrical release it’s Aidan that has the last word; querying his mother as to what will happen to the next person who watches the tape. There’s no easy answer to that one and we cut to black.