Imagine you’re ten years old. You’re staying at a friend’s house for her birthday and it’s getting late. Her older sister tells you that she’s hired a funny movie for you all to watch, so you gather around the TV as she pops a copy of the newly released 2002 film, The Ring, into the VHS player. Would you be prepared for what was about to happen? For what you were about to see? This was my nightmare…still is, if I’m being honest. Fourteen years have passed since the movie’s initial release in cinemas and I can honestly say that this film still affects me even now.
The Ring, which opened in American theatres in October 2002 and is to date the most successful horror remake of all time, initiated a shift in the genre for western audiences. Its triumph at the box office (a whopping $249m worldwide) had Hollywood rushing to push out as many J-horror remakes as they could before the foreign horror popularity died out, and push them out they did. Following the early 2000s hit, America churned out The Grudge, Dark Water, The Eye, One Missed Call – honestly, the list goes on – but all of them seemed to fall flat when compared with their predecessors. The same thing could be said regarding the vast majority of remakes across any genre, really, but The Ring not only managed to keep up with its original, for a lot of people it actually outshone Hideo Nakata’s 1998 adaptation of the Japanese mystery horror novel Ringu.
An urban legend surrounding a killer video tape is a concept that borders on the ridiculous and though it feels, at times, more like a murder mystery than a scary movie, The Ring manages to push past its bizarre premise and instill a sense of foreboding for most watchers right from the get go. After an opening scene that’s hellbent on chilling even the bravest of horror geeks, the film centres on Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a tough, cynical journalist and single mum. In an attempt to uncover the truth behind her niece Katie’s death, Rachel is led to the Shelter Mountain Inn where she discovers an unmarked video tape. After watching the tape and receiving a phone call heralding her death in “seven days” time, plus the added pressure of her friend, Noah (Martin Henderson) and her son, Aiden (David Dorfman) subsequently watching the video too, Rachel must work to uncover the truth about the tape in order to save herself, her son and her friend from becoming next on the list of victims.
The plot is far from perfect, in fact we’re often dragged through mundane narrative points in order to push the film’s plausibility – which let’s be honest, is non-existent – but Director Gore Verbinski does his best to suggest to his audience that they aren’t just watching a movie about a tape and that they’re actually witnessing an extended, fuller version of the killer video itself. The Ring contains visual inserts that are lifted directly from the black and white footage of the tape and strewn throughout the film, each like tiny subliminal messages telling you ‘no really, you’re going to die in seven days’. Starting before the story even begins with the dreaded ring appearing in place of the ‘D’ in the DreamWorks logo for a few seconds, the images that take up no more than a few frames appear almost like glitches and leave most of us wondering whether or not we’re just imagining them.
With all that said however, excluding the tense build up in the beginning scene and a few well-timed jump scares here and there, the majority of the film is sort of…boring. I remember as a child being horrified by every twist and turn the story took, but as an adult it all seems a little dull, as though each turn is just another attempt to clarify the parts of the story unburdened by reality; a feat that makes no sense considering it’s the lack of reality within the story that really drives the fear of it. In fact, it isn’t until The Ring is finished fact checking itself and has finally thrown its audience, and Rachel, down the well and spoon fed them the story of a little girl just wanting a mother to love her, that it veers back towards the evil we’d been expecting to deal with.
For all intents and purposes, the film should end with Rachel being pulled from the well. She’s solved the mystery, shed light on the poor soul trapped in darkness, and all those people who were horrifically murdered (including her niece) were just accidents, right? Wrong. In true horror movie fashion, The Ring goes on to prove that what you thought you had just learned about the Morgan family was nothing even close to the truth. Climbing out of the well, through the television and into the real world, Samara Morgan turns out to be one of the most malevolent, unstoppable forces ever to appear on-screen before, in a scene that is forever burned into my brain and might possibly be one of the most memorable horror movie moments of all time.
So despite its glaring flaws, the main one being that a Japanese urban legend doesn’t translate all that well into what was then modern-day America, Verbinski’s film still succeeded in scaring the pants off of most of us who watched it. Despite the story working much better for its Japanese forerunner, the imagery in The Ring was enough to leave a lasting impression on its western demographic and also succeeded in sparking a surge of horror movies to be made about creepy girls with long black hair. Whilst its sequel The Ring Two was a massive letdown, the upcoming 2017 release of a third film titled Rings may see the successful return of all we feared about the The Ring and its villain, then again, it may also be the concluding chapter needed to finally put the J-Horror trend to rest.