On Second Thought: “The Ring”

Like with any film trend, it all starts with one film. Sometimes that ends up being a good thing. The film that started it all was that good, that it ushered in several other good films. Or, which is more typically the case, it only serves as the type of film other films of a similar nature, aspire to be. It’s not a bar that’s too high, but it’s seldom ever reached.

The Dreamworks Pictures film “The Ring”, is still an exciting, creepy, and well made film.

This horror thriller stars Naomi Watts (upcoming films “Shut In”, “The Bleeder”), Martin Henderson (upcoming episodes “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Miracles from Heaven”), David Dorfman (“Zombie Roadkill”, “Drillbit Taylor”), Richard Lineback (“Justified”, “NCIS”), Daveigh Chase (“American Romance”, “Jack Goes Home”), Lindsay Frost (“Murder in the First”, “Without a Trace”), Pauley Perrette (upcoming episodes “NCIS”, “Fantasy Hospital”), Amber Tamblyn (“Inside Amy Schumer”, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”), Rachael Bella (“Drive Thru”, “High Hopes”), Sara Rue (“Impastor”, “Bones”), Shannon Cochran (“Be Good for Rachel (Short 2016)”, “NCIS: Los Angeles”), Jane Alexander (“Elementary”, “The Good Wife”), and Brian Cox (“War & Peace (2016)”, “Penny Dreadful”).

The film was directed by Gore Verbinski (“The Lone Ranger”, “Rango”) and written by Ehren Kruger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”).

The film originally opened on Oct. 18, 2002.

I can’t believe I’m finally seeing this film and getting the opportunity to write about it! It’s THAT exciting!! I don’t think I ever thought I’d get to this film again. I’m actually quite surprised that, up until now, I hadn’t found time to watch it. Another perk, and an enjoyable one at that, to inadvertently starting an unofficial film series challenge. I honestly couldn’t figure out how to type that, so that’s what you’re getting! It almost feels like I’ve come full circle, but still have a few other Asian horror remakes to watch. Seeing as this is an unofficial challenge, or whatever else I’ve been thinking it is, I’m hoping to watch the remaining films by the end of the year. Let’s see what I can pull off.

Until then, let’s talk about this engrossing and creepy film. If you ever wanted something that’s so commonplace to be utterly terrifying, watching this film will certainly do the trick. In so many ways, I’d forgotten how disturbing this film can be. I’d also forgotten, that it’s the best Asian horror remake of the bunch.

It’s better crafted. That’s it in a nutshell. Every aspect of this film, comes together so wonderfully, and in the end, the audience is rewarded. However, if you’re thinking you’re going to get a really scary movie, that makes you incredibly terrified, like, say “Don’t Breathe”, “The Babadook”, or “Lights Out”, then you’ll be incredibly disappointed. But I’ll come back to that. This film excels because the way the story’s written, scored, and shot. The performances are surprisingly the best of any of these films too, so there’s that, but I’ll be returning to that in a moment, too. If it weren’t for these aspects, I don’t think this trend in horror films would’ve happened. A plus and a minus I’m torn about.

While I love the way Kruger wrote this story, and consider it one of the two best he’s written, it’s not the thing that amazes me most. Those elements are the score and the cinematography. The way this film’s shot, just provides so much beauty, and actually makes it seem like this isn’t a horror film. Horror film’s don’t look like this, ever. The fact that it’s got some sort of deliberate style, is incredible! Verbinski was quite certain of the type of film he was making. The cinematography also allows for you to delve deeper into what Watts was investigating. You have so many more views and opportunities to be bothered, that if you don’t come away at least a little freaked out, the problem probably lies with you. Even this time I was able to feel all I was supposed to, and marvel at the film’s final look.

Next, which I just loved hearing in this film, is the score. Hans Zimmer (upcoming “Inferno”, “Woman in Gold”), being the amazing composer that he is, breathed some incredible life into this film. Typically there’s just a lot of noise, that’s supposed to be score, but it never sounds different from the last horror film you saw. This film, which I’m not even going to pretend I know how to describe, and thus shan’t even try, just has something so different for score. It’s memorable. Not many horror films can say that. It’s atmospheric. And, surprisingly, more so than other horror film scores, this one, is its own thing and helps the film. It’s not just there to bring out jump scares, but it actively does it’s best to get under your skin and make this film as thrilling as possible. Seriously, those instruments. Incredible! I’ve listened to it separately and must say it’s just as moving as it is in the film.

What’s also surprisingly moving are the performances. They’re really, really grounded. The characters that inhabit this film might be the most fleshed out in a modern horror film. This is an aspect I think I forgot about over the years. These characters go beyond likable. Beyond just trying to survive some supernatural entity. After the film’s opening, you dive right into what makes Watts and Dorfman connect. There’s a real family bond on display, and not just to give flimsy character background. The same goes for Henderson once his character enters the film. This film is populated with scene after scene of moments that just give you so much insight and bring much needed humanity to the characters. It’s because of this approach to character and story, that I have come to the realization that this film is very character centric. It’s a character driven film, which is definitely not what you get in your standard horror films. Everything is driven by character, in some way, shape or form. No character is simply just reacting to horrific events, but is moved by them in a certain direction and really dwells on what it all means.

This film is lucky, because Kruger devised an easy way for audiences and Watts’ character to get so tangled up in this mystery. It’s not by the typical route of chance. Watts is a journalist. So she does what journalists do best when faced with questions that are difficult to answer or seemingly don’t have an answer. She sought out the truth. And along the way, with every creepy and disturbing twist and turn, Watts and viewers, never lose sight of what matters. There’s always something connecting what she’s doing to why she’s doing it. There’s a genuine feeling that the stakes truly matter. Which in turn, allows for you to always be learning and feeling something for the character’s. Hell, even Chase, Cochran, and Cox had a lot of moments that made them so incredibly sympathetic, even though they each and their fair share of vile and villainous moments. How often can you say you’ve felt this way about a character in any horror film?

I said I’d come back to this film’s lack of being scary, at least in the traditional sense of scary. Well, a promise should always be kept. This film’s not scary. Not even the slightest. With horror films that’s what I look for most, yet here, I’m oddly at peace. It’s because of everything that I’ve more or less stated above. These elements don’t usually come together as finely as they did. It’s typically clunky or off or forced and it’s noticeable. So much so, that the film’s weighed down and unbearable. Here, the goal wasn’t about scares. There aren’t even any jump scares, even if they seem like it. These moments, mainly when Watts runs into real life elements from the video, are cued up with disturbing musical cues, either already heard from the video, or created by Zimmer. They do what they’re meant to. Unnerve you. Create fear within you. In some ways, you may even cringe. For me, this film is a few notches below psychological thriller. You’re invested enough and can easily be carried by the story, that scares aren’t truly needed. Any sound or image will do the trick, and by the time you finish the film, you’ll never be able to look at your TV the same way again.

Horror films rarely do the impossible. Be original. Be more than just the same horror film you saw last. And I do see the irony in one of those statements. There’s seldom a reason to get excited about the things that could go bump in the night as you’ve seen them all before. But, fortunately, every so often, a film can come out that manages to handle scares, chills, and actual characters to deliver something worth seeing more than once. While this rarity can sometimes yield years of godawful imitations, there will always be a place for those horror films that get it right, seemingly without even trying.

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