I was going to use The Ring as a segue into a discussion of nostalgia in the horror genre. But I didn’t quite make it there. Oh well, next time. Or I guess I could just link you back to the time I wrote about The Shining, I covered nostalgia pretty well there even though I was gonna come at from more of the perspective of the audience rather than the characters this time.
Oh man, anyway. I’m going to talk about scary movies now.
Evil video tapes! Yay!
The Ring – USA, 2002. Dir. Gore Verbinski, Screenplay Ehren Kruger. Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Daveigh Chase.
I know at first The Ring doesn’t seem like quite the right choice for a Haunted House movie. But bear with me here. I have logic?
I picked The Ring because it actually fits in kind of nicely with a lot of the movies I’m watching this month, even if it is missing the house. It’s more of a haunted Object movie than a haunted House movie. But the haunted is still there so I’m going with it. And if you really want to think about it, there’s the creepy house Samara’s dad lives in with the barn and everything, the cabin where the video tape was recorded, and then finally there’s The Well. So lots of haunted places! Right.
Released in 2002, I saw The Ring relatively early in my horror watching habits. Well, I take that back. It was actually kind of right at the height of it. The previous summers I had gone on sort of horror movie crash course and when The Ring was released I was just starting to explore a lot of foreign horror. The Ring opened the door to Japan.
Now say what you will, but this movie is the one example where I actually like the remake more than the original. I enjoyed the original but I found it to be much less engaging and not nearly as horrifying as something like Ju-On or Dark Water (one of these days I’ll write about Dark Water, I really like that one). I think Gore Verbinsky handles the material well, adapts it for an American audience, and does a nice job creating tension, atmosphere, and fear.
I also get probably an unhealthy amount of amusement from the use of technology as an element of horror in The Ring. I once had a professor in college who went on a rant one day about television sets and how they’re evil and watching us and do you really want one in your bedroom? Really?
There was context to that, I swear. I just don’t remember what it was anymore. I was a cultural studies major, there were a lot of random rants happening that really did have something to do with stuff. Context.
Anyway. TV’s are evil. Do we really doubt this? I mean, look at Poltergeist! That was the most evil staticy TV ever.
I probably shouldn’t have the TV in my bedroom…
But for now, back to The Ring.
I loved it when it came out but I haven’t really watched it much since college. I had the DVD at one point but I let someone borrow it and who knows what happened to it. One of those things. So I was curious to see how a movie about haunted video tape would hold up in the post VHS years.
And honestly, I think it holds up fairly well. The Ring is certainly a movie of a time and place. But everything is across the board consistent so that watching a movie about a video tape doesn’t feel dated in the same way that Alien doesn’t feel dated. These movies embrace their worlds so completely that we as the audience embrace them as well. It’s like watching an old ghost movie where a character uses a tape recorder. The tape recorder doesn’t throw you off because it’s a part of that world. The device works in its context.
And I don’t know that a movie like The Ring would really work in today’s world. A haunted DVD? The TIVO accidently recorded a broadcast from hell? The iPad downloaded an app of evil?
Ummm…. I mean maybe some of those could work. I’ll leave it to someone else to figure out.
(But if you come up with an idea for an APP OF EVIL, please let me know)
The Ring is just one of many in the TECHNOLOGY IS TERRIFYING game from Japan. I can’t even remember all of them anymore… Pulse, One Missed Call, the rest of the Ringu movies… There are some brilliant and insane J-horror flicks out there but of the tech ones specifically, I do remember always liking Ringu best.
Tech plays a huge role in horror across the board though. Just looking at the other movies I’ve watched in this first week, it’s key in a lot of them. In The Ring it’s not only the video tape and the TVs, it’s also the cell phones. In The House on Haunted Hill remake there’s that scene with Melissa and her camera in the basement. In Paranormal Activity and The St. Francisville Experiment there’s the use of the cameras for the Found Footage thing. And even if you ignore the part where Event Horizon is a sci-fi movie so of course there’s lots of weird tech, they still make use of recorded video and audio. I think my favorite that I’ve watched so far though is The Baby’s Room and the use of the baby monitor to see the evil. It’s so weird and terrifying and ultimately satisfying, it was cool even if the rest of the movie didn’t quite live up to the set-up.
Hey, anyone remember that movie White Noise? Oh Michael Keaton. Why did you do that? Why?
There’s a fascination with the ability to record and preserve images, sounds, moments in time. The idea that an image contains power is nothing new. Photographs capture bits of the soul, etc. So the idea that technology can also open windows, and sometimes doorways, into other realities isn’t a big stretch.
The Ring has possibly lost a bit of its punch since its original release. It’s been around, it’s been overplayed, spoofed, parodied, ripped off, sequeled…
But the original still has something to it. Verbinsky creates an atmosphere of dread that is unrelenting. It builds and builds until the end when we finally find out exactly what happens when your seven days are up.
Of course it’s not a perfect movie. The cursed video that Naomi Watts’s character Rachel finds on the tape really is rightly made fun of for being what you might expect out of some pretentious film student. Rachel herself could have probably been better developed. Especially the relationship with her son. These characters change very little over the course of the film and I think that’s a failing in the writing.
Now if we want to start talking about the role of creepy children in horror movies, well. Samara/Sadako is certainly up there. And there are some evil little bastards in these horror movies.
Lesson to take home: children are terrifying and VHS tapes are evil. Duly noted.