A chilling concept meta-invoking fear of the horror movie you’re watching with undertonal analysis of mortality & life unlived, through a lost-tape supernatural mystery motif with sinister atmosphere – & a legendary twist-ending. 8.5/10.
Plot Synopsis: It sounds like just another urban legend — a videotape filled with nightmarish images leads to a phone call foretelling the viewer’s death in exactly seven days. Newspaper reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) is skeptical of the story until four teenagers all die mysteriously exactly one week after watching just such a tape. Allowing her investigative curiosity to get the better of her, Rachel tracks down the video and watches it. Now she has just seven days to unravel the mystery.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: The scariest movie ever made. That’s quite a statement and mythic honor to bestow upon a film, and one that I’d heard thrown around quite a good amount in pop culture when referring to 2002’s The Ring. A lost-tape that kills whoever watches it in Poltergeist-meets-Exorciist-y little girl fashion sounds like a strong horror concept on paper, but there’s no way it could topple cinematic genre giants like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Scream, The Thing, etc. – right? Well, the bad news: it’s not the scariest movie of All-Time, and the good: it does make a compelling case why it at least deserves to be in the T50 conversion. A chilling concept meta-invoking fear of the horror movie you’re watching with undertonal analysis of the man’s mortality & fear of lives-unlived through a lost-tape, supernatural mystery unsettling-motif that profounds and blugeoningly-scares to this day.
The concept. The Ring’s uber-chilling concept is obviously what makes the film (and makes or breaks most genre entries). A mystical lost-tape so sinister it ends the lives of anyone who watches it seven days after viewing with a (phone-anonymity-scary in double-entendre phone/circular ring ambiguity) sight so horrifying it turns them into ghastly blackened eye-rotted closed-casket husks looking straight out the annals of Edvard Munch’s 1893 The Scream portrait deserving serious makeup-awards consideration and anyone who witnessed their death into asylums or suicide, the concept is absolutely brilliant, avant-garde, & even meta-analytic in sociologic complexity.
The real horror – in conjuncture with Daveigh Chase’s blood-curdling hair-obscured Samara in Poltergeist-meets-Exorciist-y presence teased in mysterious build-up resepctfully without the need for even gore beyond story and suspenseful atmosphere til the very end with cinema-of-the-unsettling disturbing imagery indie glory in the tape too – lies in the lens of the watchability playing on the idea what if the horror movie you’re watching was watching you back trying to turn you into the next one of its victims and FOMO exploited by the seven day framing. Analyzed is the mortality and finite-nature of man – what would you do if you only had a week to live like the playground games people played growing up? The psychology it invokes in fear of life unlived undercurrent makes it more intellectual than most genre offerings out and as unpredictable a seven-days journey for our lead protagonist as the film’s (legendarily-unstable) plot.
The plot, location sets, and Naomi Watts. Naomi Watts’ compelling turn as reporter-turned-potential victim fighting for her life to try to uncover this mystery before her seven days are up Rachel Keller guides us through a mysterious storyline with detective undertones that is surprising yet entertaining. Why wouldn’t we want to learn about such a legendary tape’s origins and why a video would have such insane horrific power to lead to the effects seen in our early victims? A masterfully-nihilistic, dreary/bleak Northwest backdrop haunts the atmosphere as depressing as the concept itself and beautifully cinematographed as anything in 2000’s genre memory.
We are taken on a whirlwind tour of the real-life counterparts to the shots in the video for a deep mystery brought to life in haunting old-school atmospherics nicely-calibrated by director Verbinski that gets more peculiar and difficult to piece together at every turn. This all convalesces into what we think is a happy ending with a poor betrayed little girl’s exhumation and all the signs of storytelling conventions pointing to that being the point of what this all was about – only for a wild plot twist second-to-none in unpredictability wherein everything we thought we just solved means nothing in a final bone-chilling scare that leaves more questions open than were even conceivably answered.
Flaws in The Ring include the ending’s ambiguity and supporting performances. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE the end Shyamalan-ic plot twist chalking it up to perhaps pure evil the farmers were right in keeping trapped beneath that well, but the reasoning for why Rachel and Aidan got spared is fuzzy and not exactly well-written. What does a copy of the tape have anything to do with the original one they both watched same as any of the other victims, including Noah who also saw the copy?? That really needed some more fleshing and better supporting reasoning for that big a plot twist and end scare I also wish the film had explained and kept it in one film than stretch it out to a franchise you feel you have to watch or buy a ticket to all to finally understand it – what happened to making a standalone masterpiece and worrying about sequels/franchising later like any of the other films on the All-Time list above did without problem? These modern films all think it’s an arms-race to who has the biggest (shaft) series-entry count than doing it the old-fashioned way and it sucks. Also, the performances outside Naomi and Henderson are pretty subpar – especially Aidan coming off more like a caricature cliché of The Boy/Sixth Sense who had way too little involvement and development to warrant that type of homage.
Overall, The Ring is one of the scariest offerings in modern horror history even pushing the envelope of consideration in that T50 All-Time conversation as a spectacular remake of the J-horror pop phenomenon with its own original flair and impressive atmospheric direction – but not the scariest movie ever made. A chilling concept meta-invoking fear of the horror movie you’re watching with undertonal analysis of the man’s mortality & fear of lives-unlived through a lost-tape, supernatural mystery unsettling-motif that (while more mystery than consistent horror) profounds and blugeoningly-scares to this day for one of the most intriguing and scary-in-concept pieces to this day.
Official CLC Score: 8.5/10