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I Liked This In College: The Ring

In I Liked This In College, Jeff rewatches a movie that he once adored to see how it holds up now that he’s a pretentious blogger.

Don't watch that Naomi Watts!

Why I Liked The Ring: I’ve always liked horror movies, but didn’t find myself fully immersed in them until freshman year of college. I was dating a girl that’d gone cover-to-cover through one of those massive horror movie encyclopedias to create a list, probably numbering in the hundreds, of all the movies she needed to see. As hobbies go, keeping in mind I didn’t then (and still don’t) have any idea how women spend their free time, being a horror buff seemed like a pretty good one. For me, enjoying the occasional evisceration is an attractive quality in a girl. Slightly less appealing was her thing for real life, non-hockey-masked serial killers. I had to break it off when she asked me to help her “Last House on the Left” some people.

"Dear Jeff. Thanks for spending $10.50 on our crappy movie."

The upside to dating a horror super-fan was her awareness of special screenings of horror canon. I got to check out flicks like Suspiria and Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the big screen (a 20 foot tall Leatherface is not to be trifled with). The downside was that her enthusiasm for gore wasn’t limited only to the genre’s proven classics, but to new releases as well. Can you claim to have seen The Forsaken on opening night? I can. As proof, I still have the hand written letter from Dawson Creek’s Kerr Smith thanking me for my support.

The turn of the century was a bleak time for horror movies. The slasher revival ushered in by Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer was on the way out, and we were still a few years off from Saw, Eli Roth, and the rise of torture porn. What we had were the half-hearted last gasps of the slasher renaissance (Valentine) and weak monster movies that Wes Craven decided to slap his name on (They). It was bad.

And then came The Ring.

I remember being intrigued by The Ring’s mysterious “before you die, you see The Ring” marketing campaign, and simultaneously skeptical of how a movie about a killer videotape could possibly be scary. But it was scary – the kind of scary that sticks with you.

The Ring’s ending might be film’s only example of a fourth-wall breaking marketing campaign. Naomi Watts’ Rachel realizes that she needs to make another copy of the cursed video to save her son Aidan. Innocently, Aidan asks “but what about the people we show it to?” There’s a pause then, where Watts must have had trouble resisting the urge to leer meaningfully right into the camera, as the audience comes to terms with the film’s final lingering scare.

We’re the next victims! Naomi Watts has just totally screwed us over and in 7 days that creepy little bitch is going to crawl out of her well and scare us to death.

I saw The Ring opening weekend and, in encouraging all my friends to go see it, I was not just championing a film that I liked but actively participating in that film’s spooky conceit. Word quickly got out about The Ring; according to Box Office Mojo it increased its audience by 22% in its second week, and maintained most of that audience in its third.

It was October, a naturally creepy time of year, and people were ready to be scared in a subtly meta way. Maybe I’m romanticizing the phenomenon of The Ring but, considering it made more money than recent smash hit Paranormal Activity, and only a little less than The Blair Witch Project, maybe not. I remember a lot of phone calls beginning with some amateur creepster hissing “seven days” into my ear. I also remember a particularly triumphant moment where I knelt in front of a TV tuned to static with a black towel over my head, and really made someone lose their shit upon entering the dorm room.

Ok, so maybe we were just college dorks having fun scaring each other. It was perfect for its time, but how does The Ring hold up now? It’s been 7 years since I last watched it.


What I Think After The Rewatch:  I’m big on atmosphere for my horror movies, so I started my rewatch of The Ring after midnight with all the lights off. About 30 minutes in, shortly after Naomi Watts had watched the evil video for the first time, my phone began to vibrate. I'm not embarrassed to admit that my heart started to beat a little faster. Of course I knew it wasn't a ghost-child calling to foretell my death, but MAYBE IT WAS.

That temporary suspension of the boundary between film and reality is what makes certain horror movies great. Often this is accomplished through “based on a true story” low-frill techniques or even straight-up faux-doc style - like in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Paranormal Activity, respectively - where the events take on a feeling of truth and the audience comes to believe that this horrifying stuff could happen to them tonight, on the way home, or in their beds.

Don't let TV raise your children.

Unlike those films, The Ring revels in its glossiness. Atmospheric lighting, dramatic rain storms, stylish cut-aways – director Gore Verbinski really digs into his bag of tricks. Remember when Verbinski was a promising studio director (I liked The Mexican, shut up) that worked on projects other than Depp/Disney money grabs? Let The Ring remind you. Verbinski really sinks his teeth into the Pacific Northwest setting, staging sequence after sequence in vistas both incredibly creepy and visually compelling.

The Ring's success really hinges on Verbinski’s ability to pull you into this world and make you believe its dangers. Let's be honest - the killer video premise is a little flimsy. The mythology here isn't exactly airtight (a fact that was exposed in the horrid sequel). And the video itself, well, it looks like something an NYU film student would screen for his thesis. Yet, Verbinski coaxes some truly freaky images from this material (that woman combing her hair in the mirror never fails to make my skin crawl), all leading to a protracted final scare that ties them all together. Seriously, Samara pulling the reverse-Pleasantville and killing poor Noah is probably the zenith of Verbinski’s career.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Naomi Watts’ performance. The Ring comes right after Mulholland Dr. when Watts was still establishing herself as a “serious” actor. Her performance here is at once understated and totally committed to the material. She embodies skepticism and exudes dread. It’s an adult performance, refreshingly different from the flouncing teeny-boppers that usually populate these films (although, to be fair, Watts does do some flouncing). Coupled with Verbinski’s direction, Watts performance lends The Ring necessary gravity.

I’m not surprised that The Ring still creeped me out. However, I am surprised that my maturing eye couldn’t find more snobbish things to pick on. This is a well-made film, no caveat necessary.

If I don’t write next week, Samara got me.

Do I Still Like It? Pretentious dissections aside – yes, I still really like The Ring. Ten years later, with a sequel and imitators in between, The Ring still feels unique. It’s still scary and still fun to think about. I’d put it in the discussion as the best horror movie of the new millennium.

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3 Responses »

  1. Yeah, I watched The Ring in my dorm room at night, with the lights out, and remember feeling like I couldn't WAIT for the movie to be over so I could open the door and turn the lights on. Also, the DVD had the entire creepy video in the bonus features section which, like idiots, we watched. I want those two minutes of my life back so bad.

    I loathed that little punk son of hers though. First of all, he just looked and acted like a creepy little dude. But he was also annoying, right? Like he wouldn't listen and just kinda did his own thing? I hate kids like that and he pissed me off. Even though I knew he wouldn't, I remember hoping he would get his.

  2. Yeah, he's pretty annoying, but so are all child actors. He calls his mother by her first name. Have a little respect, with your big-ass head.

  3. its scary vidio and exiting