Horror movies are often either campy or very poorly done with an absurd over-abundance of jump scares and cheap tactics to keep their audiences in a constant state of fear. However, there are those few movies in the horror genre that create a scenario that is not only terrifying, but the writers and director get creative within the confines of their own premise to keep the audience not only terrified but also fill them with dread. The Ring, released in 2002, is a great example of a horror movie that almost transcends the genre and becomes a hybrid between a horror movie and a thriller. Having never seen it previously before writing this review, let’s dive in and see why The Ring is a strong and scary film.
The premise is somewhat simple but has many subtle layers to it. The story takes place in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State, and follows one woman’s race to understand the origin of a mysterious VHS tape. After a person watches this tape, they are then called on the nearest phone and a voice tells them “Seven Days”. Once these seven days are up, that person then dies. The main character, named Rachel Keller, is a journalist and begins her investigation of the tape after her niece dies after having watched the tape. Rachel eventually watches the tape, putting a deadline and an impending sense of doom into the film to heighten the dread and fear. As a few more characters are introduced and more of the origins of the tape are revealed, the film begins to really take off and as the deadline approaches the film never stops accelerating.
Actors/Actresses and their Performances
The two best actors are the people who play Rachel Keller and her son, Aiden. Naomi Watts plays Rachel and gives a very good performance. Her terror and dread are palpable, and her motivations for pursuing the history and background of the tape are believable and greatly enhance the fear that she expresses and then passes on to the audience. Her son, Aiden, is played by David Dorfman, and while child actors are very hit or miss, his performance is very convincing and really serves to add to the dread and fear in the film.
The cinematography is very simple, but given what this movie is, there doesn’t need to be very flashy or fancy camera tricks and special effects. The little CGI that is present is tasteful and only serves to enhance the scenes that it is present in. The shots of the scenery are beautiful and really serve to help ground the setting in the Pacific Northwest. The camera angles are obviously designed to impose a sense of dread, and they do that very well. One important thing to note is that one of the central themes of this movie is the images that are present on the VHS tape, and the idea of nearly static images conveying horror and dread is very interesting and is put to great use in the film. There is so much effort put into imagery in this film for purposes of instilling dread in the audience, and it all works very well.
The dialogue serves its purpose of developing the characters and getting us to care about them. There is enough to get us attached to the characters and get us to hope for their survival, even though in most horror movies nobody survives. The characters themselves, being built largely on dialogue, are also decently deep and are very interesting with their many motivations and relationships with each other. The origins and backstory of the tape are also very well conveyed in the dialogue but there is also quite a bit of the story that is told purely in images, once again following the visual theme of the movie.
One last important note is the lack of a traditional horror soundtrack and sound effects. Once again, the movie relies largely on imagery to convey its dread and fear, something that most modern horror movies avoid to their own detriment. Most recently released horror movies rely on loud noises or swelling music to convey the fear and dread to the audience, but this is often cheap and can only lead to overusing gimmicks like the jump-scare, which is ultimately not something that lingers with the audience. The Ring uses the same repeated set of images throughout the film and ingrains them into the minds of the audience so that when they see those same images appear in other places in the film, no sounds or music is necessary to convey the dread. This style of horror tends to ensure the that the dread lasts beyond the movies run time, and it can continue to inspire this dread even with repeated viewings.
There are two shortcomings in this film which do result in it losing a rating point. The most unfortunate one is the fact that the use of the VHS tape is a plot element that might not work today because of the prevalence of digital media. Teenagers today were born around 2001-2007, and so it is entirely likely that they might not even understand what a VHS tape is, and that number will only continue to grow as time moves on. It is because of this that The Ring might lose some of its horror impact as time goes on.
The other shortfall is somewhat minor, but it should still be mentioned. There is one character that becomes essential to the plot whose origin is completely masked in mystery. While it does work to help build up the horror and dread, it might have helped to at least have hinted at the possible origin of the character as this could have added to the horror or dread. However, there doesn’t seem to be a good way to do this in the film without it detracting from the experience, so that is why this is a minor gripe.
The Ring is a great horror movie that blurs the line between horror and thriller. It is scary, but it doesn’t rely on silly gimmicks that most recent horror movies do. Rather, it relies on unusual ideas to convey the dread, and it is much better for it. Even though it might not age as well as some other movies, it is still an extremely strong horror experience that can be recommended for any who like a good, scary movie.
Final Rating: 8/10
3: Painfully Below Average
4: Below Average
6: Above Average
Ryan O’Connor is a fifth-year senior studying physics at CWU. He is an avid gamer and nerd and loves to share and hear opinions about anything related to these things. He is also the DJ on Electropolis known as LYNX.