Let’s start with this. The Ring is not scary, or at least not to yours truly, but that does not mean it doesn’t deserve its status as a horror classic. It’s a haunting, psychological nightmare, a race against a personal doomsday clock, and a thought-provoking look at media, relationships, and assumptions. And it is fantastic.
What Is ‘The Ring’ About?
For those that have not seen the film, here’s a brief synopsis. A mysterious videotape kills anyone who watches it after seven days, including journalist Rachel Keller’s (Naomi Watts) niece. While investigating, Rachel watches the videotape herself, a disturbing series of images and brief clips, and is notably distraught when she answers the phone after watching the video and hears, “you will die in seven days.” She asks her video analyst ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson), the father of her son Aidan (David Dorfman), for his opinion on the video. Noah’s skeptical, but asks Rachel for a copy of the video to look deeper into it. Growing more convinced that the video is indeed cursed, Rachel is horrified when she finds out Aidan has watched the video as well, and now also only has seven days to live. Over the next number of days, Noah and Rachel tie the video back to Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), a young girl who had the ability to burn images into the things that surrounded her, including the minds of her mother and the family’s horses, all driven to kill themselves as a result… but not before the mother pushed Samara into a well to die.
A Dreary and Bleak Color Palette
The look of the film is effectively dreary and oppressive, with the bulk of the movie filmed in a palate of blues and grays. There’s water seemingly everywhere. If it isn’t raining, it’s the immediate aftermath of rain – wet driveways, puddles, and the like. Little puddles of water surround those killed after watching the video (we’ll get there). The water places the characters in the land of the living in the same conditions Samara died in, a pool of water at the bottom of the well. There’s actually a clever foreshadowing scene early on in the film, where Aidan walks down the sidewalk with an umbrella and runs into Noah, who does not have an umbrella, a nod to the ending of the film when Aidan is spared, but Noah is most decidedly not. The quick, scattershot images of the video are mimicked by images of real life – tree leaves, time-lapse clips of the sky throughout the movie – a look that makes a subtle reference to how the video creeps into the lives of the people who watch it.
A Metaphor for the Dangers of the Media
The Ring speaks to media, and how it can distort truths and impact lives. The videotape literally impacts the lives of the people who watch it. Besides impending death, photos and live videos of those who watch it are distorted or scratched out; a cancel culture, if you will, long before that became a thing. Televisions are prevalent throughout the film, not only as a portal for evil but an object that harms (it’s the TV that knocks Rachel into the well) and kills (the TV is the last object Richard Morgan (Brian Cox) plugs in before killing himself). The video itself is the perfect metaphor for how media can distort truths, a means of leading Rachel and Noah to one conclusion while hiding its true malicious intent.
The characters and their relationships in the movie are other fascinating elements of the film. Rachel begins the film as someone who sees herself as above others. When Aidan’s teacher asks to talk to Rachel about Aidan, she very noticeably dismisses the classroom chair pulled out for her, opting to sit on the desk, placing her higher than the seated teacher. She’s barely a mother, evidenced by Aidan’s self-reliance and insistence on calling her “Rachel” and not “mom.” As the film progresses, Rachel grows more humble and maternal, especially upon learning of Samara’s death at the hands of her mother. She, too, was on the verge of pushing her child away, so when we see her lying on the bed next to her son, at an equal level, it’s a well-earned recognition of her growth.
Her relationship with Noah deepens over the course of the film as well, two lives bound by an urgency to save not only themselves but their son, which makes the movie’s ending that much more heartbreaking, with Rachel coming to terms with the fact that it was her actions that doomed Noah. Ultimately, it’s the broken relationship between Samara and her parents that even started the train rolling, so to speak. Would there be a cursed videotape if they had found some sort of peace?
Gore Verbinski’s Directing Is Masterful
The film contains many memorable, well-crafted scenes, a testament to Gore Verbinski’s skill as a director. The opening scene draws you into the film immediately, explaining the basic premise of the story before following Rachel’s niece, Katie (Amber Tamblyn), increasing horror as she realizes that anything around her could bring about her death. The scene on the ferry, where Rachel’s presence spooks a large black horse in his trailer so badly that it kicks open the door and runs about the ferry in terror before leaping to its death in the waters, is fast-paced and wildly uncomfortable. When we see Samara on video talking to a doctor at the mental institute about her inability to stop burning images with her mind, it’s a subtle line between feeling empathy for her and fear of her. And the end scene…
A Perfect Cast
Not yet. First, the actors: a cast that does a great job with their roles. Naomi Watts is perfect, capturing the wild rollercoaster of emotions Rachel goes through with sometimes nothing more than the look on her face. Young David Dorfman understands Aidan, portraying the character as a child forced to be self-sufficient, with a hint of resentment lying underneath his actions and speech. Martin Henderson deftly displays Noah’s growth from cynic to believer to parent. Daveigh Chase is a revelation, her Samara is a balance between a scared little girl and evil intent when alive and full-on vengeful when dead.
An Ending No One Saw Coming
Now, the ending, far and away the best part of the movie. All along, Rachel is led to the belief that what Samara wanted was for the truth to come out, to be rescued from the well and laid to rest. And we, the viewers, believe it too. From movies like The Sixth Sense or Insidious: The Last Key, we’re accustomed to that story. So when that gets twisted, and we learn that Samara is a restless, vengeful spirit who will never stop, we’re just as shocked as Rachel. But who’s more shocked than Rachel? Noah. The TV in his apartment turns on to show Samara crawling out of the well towards the screen, out of the screen, and towards Noah, her face locked in rage and her body dripping water from the well.
When Rachel arrives too late and finds Noah dead, she struggles to think why she was spared and Noah was not. When the revelation hits that it’s because she made a copy of the video and showed Noah, thus passing the curse along, she has Aidan make a copy of the video himself. As the copy is being made, Aidan asks Rachel a question that ends the film on a haunting, bleak note: “What about the person we show it to? What happens to them?” That’s where the film ends. Rachel doesn’t answer. Rachel can’t answer. She’s seen what happens, she’s the reason it happened to Noah, and now in order to save Aidan, she has to do it again. Brilliant.