This was the movie that made me aware that successful horror movies could be PG-13. It makes no sense why some movies are R and some are PG-13. If you think horrific, you often associate it with The Ring. But it earned a PG-13 and I could show my students this one. Explain it to me, please.
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
Heh. His name is Gore. Just put that together. The first time I saw this movie, it destroyed me. It destroyed my friend JD even more. He was full-on shook. My other buddies were playing it cooler than JD was, but they were messed up from seeing this in the theater. We were all in college and I couldn't wrap my head around it for a long time. Horror fans often have a problem with finding a movie that really scares them. This was the one. Even the first few DVD viewings scared me. But then, I waited a long time. It has probably been close to a decade since I've watched my copy of The Ring. How is my opinion of this movie so different from what I watched in the theater in college?
I know I'm a different person. I often hate old me. If I met that guy, I'd roll my eyes pretty hard at him. The movie slate I enjoyed back there makes me cringe from time to time. Between aging and experiences, I just have completely different associations. I can't blame The Ring for this. After watching The Ring this time, I can't say that the movie is bad by any means. But one thing I noticed is the movie is more boring than scary. I think I screamed in the theater and I'm not exactly sure why. Part of that comes with the communal experience with horror and comedy. Both genres play on the unexpected and the idea that there is something in the theater that makes us vulnerable. I can see elements of things that set me off the first time while watching this movie, but it doesn't affect me the same way. I was projecting this movie for the NHS Halloween Bash (Their request!). I had the communal thing, but I wasn't a peer in this situation. I was a moderator. I was in charge with an outside perspective on the whole thing. But I still have to critique the movie from the point of view of what it did to me. The movie is a fantastic mystery. When writing this, I can see this being a fun project in script reverse engineering. The video tape is full of images that get paid off throughout the film. Every time one of those images comes into play in the narrative, Verbinski gets exactly what he is shooting for from his audience. It causes his audience to gasp. That's brilliant. But I'd like to think that the mystery had an answer before the clues were placed. Great detective stories all involve placing clues after the fact. The Ring actually pulls this off pretty flawlessly. Something as stupid as a ladder gets a degree of weight when showing up on screen. On top of that, the way that the images are stylized on the VHS also sell these moments.
I wonder if The Ring is a little dated at this point. The fact that the entire movie surrounds a dead format. I didn't see Rings, but I have to assume that the movie had to switch media. Is it DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming HD? Regardless, there is something very tangible about a tape. I think that the story works better in the VHS era. DVDs and Blu-Ray are always treated with care. Physical media, being dead and all, seems disposable. I know that other horror movies have played on the digital culture and failed. I'm thinking of the recently released Friend Request. Something about a VHS, though, makes the movie scarier. I know that VHS tapes were inherently disposable. I know that there was an era where CDs and DVDs were passed around as copies, but it never got to the casual nature of VHS tapes. I remember stacks of VHS tapes lying around our house. Many of them were unlabeled, so the idea that an unlabeled tape could lead to a week long haunting is a cool idea. I think many of the students thought the movie was scary, but I don't get the vibe that this movie destroyed any of them. Maybe one, but she wasn't up for the movie before I put it on. (I'm a bad person.) Part of it comes from the fact that VHS is dead, but I also think that The Ring originated a genre of PG-13 horror movies. There were just copies of the J-Horror adaptations time and time again and I think it might be old at this point. On top of that, much of the movie plays with the imagination compared to more contemporary films like Insidious. Insidious shows the demon throughout. Instead, this movie saves the creepy haired Samara only at the end of the film. That is a very different experience than showing the monster throughout.
But one thing that really still works, at least for me, is the last twenty minutes. The last twenty minutes of the film is the twist on the plot. I'm not going to go into it, but from the well on, the movie is actually pretty terrifying. The beginning of the movie just plays with atmosphere. I'm not going to slag it off or anything because that atmosphere is fantastic. It even has Brian Cox, and who am I ever to criticize a movie with Brian Cox as a means to affect atmosphere? But the actual pay off really works in this film. Samara is as creepy as can be imagined. Really, much of the weakness with the last twenty minutes can be blamed on the fact that I'm writing from 2017. Samara has been parodied and overused by this point. She has even thrown out the opening pitch at a baseball game. (Google it.) POPULAR SPOILER: When Samara comes out the TV, it was genuinely shocking. But now it has become such a part of our consciousness that it doesn't really have the same effect that it used to. It is shocking to a certain degree because the movie seems to have ended in the previous scene. When the kid says, "You weren't supposed to help her," that scene still works because it is so well timed. It subverts the expectations of what the horror movie / ghost story is supposed to be. The ghost, free of its prison, is supposed to be at peace. Not Samara. No, ma'am. That part of the movie makes it awesome. But when the mystery itself gets kind of boring, that might be the only awesome part. Okay, the horse falling into the water is pretty great and when she picks the fly off the glass, I kind of dig that moment too. But those last twenty minutes...hoo wee.
You know who I don't really dig? The main cast. I don't know why I can't get behind Naomi Watts. Perhaps it my distaste from watching her in Twin Peaks: The Return. There are some really safe choices that are going on with this movie. But it seems like Naomi Watts is just cold and distant. She screams for the safety of her child when the movie really needs it, but they may have made the character too cold. I know, the mom is supposed to be cold and distant so that she changes by the end. But I don't really get that plot. That distance still kind of seems to be there. Yes, she's holding her kid, but Naomi Watts isn't Scrooging by the end. She is still dead behind the eyes. Also, the guy who plays the kid's dad doesn't exactly hold my attention. He's supposed to be charming and funny. I don't know if that really worked. He's awfully generic. Like, insanely generic. I like skeptic characters in these movies. I think that they really need to have the skeptic character to ground it in reality. But there is skeptic and there is brazen. Gosh darn it, I'm going to have to inadvertently praise Naomi Watts because her character has the right amount of skepticism. I mean, sure, Verbinski murders off the dad's character brutally and I suppose that casual attitude makes it okay to murder him off, I guess? It's got that Friday the 13th logic. An arbitrary vice makes a character unsympathetic to an audience. Maybe unsympathetic is the wrong word and maybe "vice" is too strong a term, but his callousness at the beginning of the investigation makes his death somehow acceptable. I don't know how it works, but it does.
The movie is more flawed than I thought, but I'll always be thankful that it really scared me once. I think it is still a scary movie, but there is a real pacing issue to the thing as a whole. They mystery is great, if not a little silly. But I still have the experience of being terrified and shook in the theater. I think that is the experience I look for every time I watch a scary movie. I just really haven't gotten it since.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.