#ThrowbackThursday – The Ring

Original US release date: October 18, 2002
Production budget: $48,000,000
Worldwide gross: $249,348,933

Pop quiz, hotshot!  Daveigh Chase, the actress who portrayed the terrifying Samara in The Ring, also voiced what much-beloved Disney character?  Well, I’ll get into that.  But, first . . . a story.

I couldn’t decide what movie to feature for last week’s #ThrowbackThursday.  So, I entered the title of every movie I own (that’s a lot.  A whole lot.) into a random selector and it chose The Grudge.  Awesome.  So, I re-watched The Grudge, typed up a column that involved a lot of comparison and contrast between it and The Ring, and then I auto-set it to post last Thursday.

After that, I started thinking about how the site was going to be short on content for a couple of weeks due to my being out of town and hours away from a first-run movie theater.  I decided to go ahead and work up another #ThrowbackThursday post for the following Thursday, as well.  And, once again, I would let the fates decide which film to feature using the same random chooser.  And, honest to Zod, it chose The Ring.  So, here we are.  Last week, The Grudge.  This week, its progenitor, The Ring.

Not that I mind.  If you’re a regular reader, you already know that The Ring is in the running for my all-time favorite scary movie.  Only The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are considered competition.  As I’ve said before, those three films aren’t content with only being great horror movies; they’re simply great films.

The Ring was also a groundbreaker in the horror genre.  It was the first modern horror film (and certainly the first since 1982’s Poltergeist) to be universally considered terrifying without also being rated R.  Thanks to Gore Verbinski’s genius direction, millions of people all around the world finally understood that blood and gore aren’t inherently scary; they’re just bloody and gory.  Mood.  Tone.  Atmosphere.  Dread.  Imagery.  These are the things that scares are made of.  These are the things at the heart of The Ring.

Also worth noting is that Verbinski’s film is an adaptation of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese thriller, RinguThe Ring kicked off the Japanese horror craze in America which lasted for a good decade or so before fading away.  Only The Ring and The Grudge truly achieved any success from that fad, however.  And that’s because there was true love and care behind both of those films.  The Grudge was helmed by the creator of its original Japanese predecessor and The Ring was molded by an ambitious, up-and-coming filmmaker who went on to direct the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films.

I actually prefer Verbinski’s The Ring to Nakata’s Ringu.  I feel it’s better structured and more accessible.  I’m not knocking Ringu.  I just find The Ring to be more successful at creating a connection with the audience and therefore heightening the entire experience.  In fact, the sequel, The Ring 2, was actually directed by Nakata and was not nearly as successful either commercially or critically.  Nakata had true vision, but Verbinski’s sensibilities in the delivery of that vision were simply more on-point.

In addition to that, The Ring has the added value element of the fantastic Naomi Watts.  Playing the main protagonist, Rachel, Watts brings a wonderful mix of brain and heart to the proceedings.  Rachel is a reporter who uses her talents to unravel the mystery of her niece’s death.  Stories around the death are circling around a fabled VHS tape (those were still a thing in 2002) that, seven days after the fact, kills anyone who watches it.  Why seven days?  Well, that’s part of the mystery.  And as the terror hits closer and closer to home, the urgency ramps up, with Watts powerfully conveying Rachel’s ever-increasing desperation without betraying the character’s strength and resolve under pressure.  You root for her, you feel for her, and – most critically – you fear for her.  And yourself.  After all, when Rachel watches the video . . . so do you.

And that right there – the very premise of the film, itself (watching a scary movie that later kills you) – brilliantly plays on the fears we all had as a kid (still have as adults, in some cases, perhaps?) that the creatures we see in horror films are going to come for us.  It’s why so many people won’t watch horror movies alone.  Or at all!  It’s why I had to watch some comedy shows before I went to bed on the night I saw The Conjuring 2.  Subconsciously, we’re all afraid that Jason or Freddy will get us once the lights go out.  And in The Ring, that’s exactly what happens; you watch the video and then it comes for you.  It’s so simple, yet so masterful.

Also expertly crafted is the murderous video, itself.  It’s deliciously creepy, with disturbing image after disturbing image popping up on screen, each more unsettling than the last.  All the while, there’s a score playing behind the visage that’s less like music and more like the sound of happiness being bludgeoned by a meat tenderizer.   The credit for that goes to the legendary Hans Zimmer, who goes the extra mile with his score to maintain the discomforting atmosphere throughout the film.  You never really know how much an unresolved chord can bother you until you realize you’ve been hearing them for two hours.  The overall package is almost unfathomably effective in its efforts to disquiet the audience.  But it doesn’t end there.

Rachel realizes that almost every single image in the video has meaning.  in response she sets out to decrypt the video and discover its origins, initially in an effort to find the truth behind her niece’s death.  Her motivations evolve as the story unfolds.  For those of you who are among the unfortunate few who haven’t seen The Ring, I won’t go into details, here, but what Rachel discovers about the origins of the tape and the origins of the ghostly Samara is one of my favorite aspects of the film and only increases the impact whereas other, lesser films, would have used that storyline resolution as a release valve and ease up on the audience, letting them off the hook.  No such luck, here.  Verbinski and company mean business.

Speaking of Samara, the final crucial piece to the puzzle of The Ring is, of course, Samara, herself.  She has gone on to become an iconic movie monster, played to perfection by Daveigh Chase.  (What most audiences didn’t realize is that many of them had already become familiar with Chase, earlier that very year, as she was also the voice of Lilo in Disney’s Lilo & Stitch!  And people thought Michael Keaton’s jump from Beetlejuice to Batman was an extreme turnaround!)  Samara is as harrowing as any movie monster in cinematic history and, thanks to Verbinski’s direction and Chase’s performance, has more than earned a spot on Movie Monster Mount Rushmore.

The Ring is an undeniable all-time horror classic that has withstood the test of time.  Verbinski, Watts, Chase, and everyone else in the cast and crew deliver their absolute best work and create a film that succeeds on every single level.  It sticks with the audience, not just for the night, but for the rest of their lives.  In that sense, it was The Exorcist of a new generation.  The tagline of the film is, “Before you die, you see the ring.”  That’s intended to be a warning.  With just a couple of slight punctuation/grammar tweaks, I’m going to change it to a demand: Before you die, you see The Ring!

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