The Ring is Gore Verbinski’s horror classic from 2002. Is that a little early to call something a classic? Tough beans. It’s a classic. If you haven’t seen it, I think it’s safe to say we all recommend that you dive into this one without knowing anything at all about it. Like the dismal blue green color pallette of the pacific northwest? Like creepy children? Nostalgic for VHS tapes, but also don’t want to watch V/H/S? This one’s up your alley. Check out the trailer below to be doubly sure, but if you’re already sold then go in as cold as you can. Come back afterward to read our SPOILER FILLED review below.
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Mark: The Ring. I guess this means we really like our website, right? Since we put a ring on it? Get it? Hah. I’ll see myself out.
Jake: Yeah man. That was terrible… Take a lap.
Mark: I am really excited to talk about this movie. One of my first real life dates was taking a girl to this movie. This thing is a total classic even though it’s only 14 years old. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it brought J-Horror to the United States. Following the release of The Ring, we also saw movies like The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, Shutter, and even the much delayed 7500, and a lot of that is because of the commercial success of this movie.
Jake: Blow me. There’s one thing that brought J-Horror anywhere. And his name is Godzilla. In fairness though, you are correct about what this did for modern horror. This has to be one of the most critically acclaimed remakes of all time. It brought Ringu (originally a 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki) to the US only a decade later, on the heels of the smash hit film in Japan that went by the same name. Talk about a quick rise.
Mark: The movie starts with a very solid cold open. Granted it is rife with exposition in its purest form, but it delivers what it needs to in a scene that is dripping with late 90s early 2000s dialogue. Nevermind that shit though because you end up faced with the scariest television set since Poltergeist within the first five minutes. This scene alone lead some of my friends growing up to move TVs out of their bedrooms for months. Do you know how cool it was to have a TV in your bedroom in middle school? That shit was bananas. This movie robbed my friends of bananas.
Jake: I’m not far from your boat, Mark. Like you, I saw this in theaters when I was 13 and my tv damn near ended up in the hallway as well. What is cool about this particular review is that I haven’t seen this flick in full since then. And by cold open, you really could have been talking about the color palette of this shit. It’s excessively cold. Seriously, it’s like they threw aquamarine goggles over every lens when they filmed. Maybe that’s why it cost $50 million to make.
Mark: After meeting our protagonist Rachel, played by Naomi Watts, we wind up on a long and winding whodunnit story that leads her to finding a VHS tape at an old run down cabin-hotel in Washington State. In short, her neice or some shit died out of the blue after her and her teenaged friends went to this cabin and watched some tape. I fucking love how gloomy this movie is. Maybe it’s because I’m totally in love with the Pacific Northwest, or maybe it’s because the gloom matches the tone of the background story perfectly.
Jake: I love how you call it “Washington State”. Look man, we are both from the northwest, and we call that shit Washington. I’m not pandering to some east coast fuckholes, so here’s a little lesson for the reader. Objectively, there is “Washington” (that one tucked up in the top left corner), and there is “Washington D.C.” (that one tucked between like 8 states on the eastern seaboard because things are geographically small out there). Besides, people just call it “D.C.” anyway, so they can’t have it both ways.
Mark: Critical analysis of the movie there guy. Let’s talk about the content of the VHS tape. Breaking with the overall expectations of the time they actually showed what was on the thing instead of “leaving it up to the imagination” like so many other movies of its kind. That being said it would’ve been understandable for them to take the layup and not show it. Instead they went balls out and put a fucking nightmare fever dream onto the screen. It’s a black and white series of relatively disturbing images that are at first unrelated, but become generally explained as the movie expands. It’s actually something that is standalone creepy, but also functions to tie the whole movie together as you begin to understand what the strange images mean.
Jake: Totally agree. It was a smart move from multiple angles. It is crazy disturbing, which helps from a horror standpoint, and it also helps build the world to great effect. What I’d like to call out is how the filmmaking in general also takes a turn at Shelter Mountain, which turns out to be a really important place for the plot. Even before Rachel watches the tape, when she arrives at Shelter Mountain, the world takes a turn for the surreal.
Mark: Plot spoilers for a little later on, but this is basically also where the narrative ends up. I don’t know if it was a conscious choice or not, but this really feels like the point of no return for both Rachel and the viewing audience. Granted we haven’t seen the tape just yet, but it’s realistically inevitable at this point.
Jake: Rachel keeps up with the detective work by enlisting her colleague/fuckbuddy/father of her bastard child, Noah, to come watch the tape. She shows zero restraint. Her niece is mysteriously dead? There are stories about how it kills people? Meh. Watch it, copy it, and have the other parent of your young child also watch it. Seven days, bitch…
Mark: Naomi Watts’s character, I can’t remember her name, continues to employ some serious VHS sleuthing to “stretch the film” enough to identify a lighthouse that sends her to her next stop. Before we get there though… is that really a thing? Can you stretch videotape to reveal shit outside the frame? I’m pretty sure that just tears the film.
Jake: I’m no expert either, and I get the whole ‘if it doesn’t bend it will break’ thing, but I’m also fairly certain this is complete fuckery. She just hammers away at some knobs to unveil the next clue. And I mean she puts some real elbow grease into it. It’s absurd, but not any more absurd than how she is fully a believer in the supernatural power of the tape, yet somehow leaves it lying around (or just in the fucking VCR) at home, allowing her son Aidan Aka “Little Father Time” to watch it. Seven days, kid...
Mark: Solid Jude the Obscure reference. Fuck that book. In order to get to the lighthouse Rachel hops on a ferry, as you do when you live in Seattle. While on board a horse freaks out in her presence and hurls itself overboard, simultaneously drowning and losing a fight with the boat’s propeller. It’s… traumatic.
Jake: I had actually forgotten about this scene, somehow. I remembered horses, but not the whole ordeal. The 12-ish year break between viewings paid dividends... This scene is still pretty good. Wholly unexpected, and really rubs salt in the wound by not only having the animal jump in the drink, but get chopped to pieces by a goddamn barge. Nevertheless, Rachel makes it to the island, which is some somber fucking speck in the San Juans. It’s blue, but then again, so is the rest of the movie.
Mark: This next bit is where the pacing of the movie tends to drag a bit. It turns decidedly more sleuthy than horror-y. You get a lot of backstory on Samara (the creepy chick in the film) and her mother (the other creepy chick in the film). Turns out they disliked each other. Shocking. Also Samara had superpowers of thoughtographic telepathy and caused all of her mother’s horses to kill themselves. Jake, hard hitting film analysis question: Would you say that Samara and the boy from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” make a good TV power-couple, or would you say they make the best TV power-couple?
Jake: Definitely the best, my friend. Can you imagine the fights they would have? Shit would be primetime material for sure. I’m talkin’ better than the wizard’s duel between Merlin and Madam Mim in The Sword in The Stone.
Mark: Before long our intrepid duo end up back at the run down cabin at Shelter Mountain where Rachel’s story started. Following the guidance of some magic mystery marbles, Rachel and Noah cut a hole in the floor to reveal the very well that is seen in the tape. Spooky. Yada Yada Yada black magic death water causes the CRT TV to jump off of its stand, slide down the wooden floor, and slam into Rachel knocking her into the seemingly bottomless well. There’s a lot to nitpick in this scene (as you might guess from my stunningly apt description), but if you are able to suspend your disbelief a bit you are left with one of the creepiest scenes I have ever seen. I’m not sure I could come up with a creepier setting than being trapped at the bottom of well, knowing that your death is predicted to be minutes away, with the rotting corpse of a teenage girl demon.
Jake: Absolutely. This scene makes the skin crawl. Because we as the audience have seen the film, we know damn well that the well cannot mean anything good, and that it also (allegedly) has the rotting corpse of a (potentially) supernatural child in it. The sequence at the base of the well is handled very nicely. Rachel finds fingernails stuck in the rock walls, illuminating that there must have been a horrible struggle after Samara got dumped into the pit. The top closes on her, and she brushes up against a mat of black hair, finding the body in the depths. Meanwhile, Noah is struggling like a goddamned slapstick character to fish her out of the well, all but destroying the tension otherwise built in the scene. In the end, he succeeds, and Rachel is rescued along with the corpse, which is given a proper burial.
Mark: You expect the movie to end here. Happily ever after, right? But then the movie just.... sort of... keeps happening. The first time I watched this I felt a stupid amount of dread when the scenes kept coming, because you know that there’s still something left in the plot. The dread also was probably due to the fact that I really had to pee since this movie is two hours long. I have a very well calibrated bladder for the standard 90 minute run time. Don’t fuck with that, movie makers.
Jake: As we keep getting scene after scene, you can kind of guess when we are going to descend from the false summit it has created. When Aidan and Rachel wake up the day after all this has ended, there shouldn’t be much left to say if the curse is broken. So Aidan’s impeccably timed admission that Rachel shouldn’t have helped Samara is not too shocking. His mild sensitivity throughout the film was wholly useless. He’s basically a minor leaguer in ‘shining’. Cut to Noah doing his various Noah-ly things in his apartment when his TV suddenly turns itself on.
Mark: This scene is really the payoff of the whole film. We’ve seen the after effects of Samara, the general intro creepiness, some flashbacks and minor jumpscares showing how creepy she is, but you don’t really see her operate until the very end of the film. She’s got a whole routine: Creepy TV turns on despite no one being near it and potentially being unplugged. Static. Image of the well pops up. Girl crawls out… creepily. She ambles toward the screen, pausing as she is right up against the glass. Then whammo she crawls out of the fucking TV screen. I mean it seems tame when I write about it, but the first time you see this if you don’t know it’s coming you might literally panic vomit. I would know because it happened to a friend of mine. You don’t know him. He goes to another school.
Jake: I’ll agree that the first time I saw this, it freaked me the fuck out. Maybe it is because of the pedestal I’ve created in the inner recesses of my mind for how scary this was, or maybe it’s the excessive parody the scene has been subjected to over the years (more likely both), but this did not hold up in the slightest. I was astounded by how poor the effects were for this sequence during this viewing.
Mark: Look, there’s gonna be some not-so-great CG lingering in any movie that came out roughly between 1995 and 2005. Hell, you still see awful CG in a ton of movies. So when you go back and see stuff that you remember being scary due to anything other than practical effects it can have less than desirable results. That being said, I still think this scene stands up well. It’s not perfect, but the uniqueness and general unexpectedness of it more than make up for the potentially mediocre execution. Meanwhile, Rachel and the audience have to figure out why she was spared and Noah wasn’t.
Jake: So as it turns out, you have to copy the tape and perpetuate the virus to be spared. Rachel gladly did this earlier in the film, and the twist was that her curse was lifted as a result. She has Aidan take the same steps, presumably screwing some poor future fucker over in the process. It’s circular. It keeps going. Like a merry-go-round, only… with less good things. Lot of bad energy to block… Ratings, please?
For 1, think of how Mayor Maturo would rate his level of certainty regarding what he's eating for dinner tonight:
For 10, think of how Lt. Killgore would rate the smell of napalm in the morning:
Mark: 8 - There’s a reason this story is referenced in so many other places. It fills a void that is left largely untouched by anything other than parody. It is unique, has great atmosphere, has solid twists, and a believable progression of events and characters. The story falls short a little bit in the character of Aidan and the general lack of medical knowledge attributed to people’s whose faces spontaneously melt, but is otherwise very solid. There’s a reason this is already a classic despite being less than 2 decades old.
Jake: 7.5 - The story of the ring is incredibly unique. It is unique to a certain time period (you can never do VHS again), it is unique in its execution of a grotesque race against time, and it’s unique in how it interacts with the viewer by allowing them to see the nexus of the entire plot by viewing the cursed film. Without that, the story would not work half as well.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Mark: 6 - I think the inclusion of the film within the film did a lot for this category. It shows you key images without you realizing what they are, and then builds the world around them essentially using the world to ascribe importance to objects that would otherwise be background props. There are a few moments where the movie’s millennial pedigree is showing with rough CG and quintessentially 90s dialogue, but it’s nothing that a little suspension of disbelief can’t fix.
Jake: 4 - My immersion in the film was broken several times. The first of which was only 11 seconds into the movie when the cold open has these two girls just explode with exposition in an attempt to catch the viewer up and stage the first scare sequence. It didn’t work for me. Neither did the majority of the slow moving second act while Rachel was on the island. It was too slow and could have been chopped to aid the overall pacing of the film as the whole. These two sequences in particular happened at really inopportune times because they left a sour taste in my mouth for crucial sequences in the plot.
Mark: 10 - I set out a while back to come up with a few estimates of what a perfect 10 looks like for me in scare factor. This is the first one that popped into my head. This is easily the most subjective category (well, this or overall) so all I really have to say is that this movie terrified the fuck out of me when I first saw and still freaks me out to think about. I’ll admit that there’s a nostalgia tilt factor at play here to some extent, but also show this to someone who hasn’t seen it and let’s see how they react.
Jake: 6 - If I were to have rated this based on how scary I remember the movie being from when I saw it as a 13 year old, it would have been somewhere around an 8. Proper scary. However, watching again, several of the most memorable scares fall flat for me today, particularly the last scene. That being said, the disfigured bodies showing the aftermath of the ring are still effective, and the film is still awesome.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Mark: 6 - See also my rating for world building and immersion. There are some CG effects that don’t stand up particularly well. With that said the rest of the movies’ set designs, color palette, and props (or more realistically just “prop” for the video tape) are well executed. Samara’s barn room is a particularly creepy set that still freaks me out to think about.
Jake: 6 - I do not think the majority of the effects in this flick have held up well at all. I’ve already mentioned the particularly egregious examples, but there are simply too many scenes that are showing their age for me to give this a high score. Kudos to the film itself, however. That has some staying power.
Mark: 8 - I don’t have much more to say on the matter. There’s a bit of nostalgia factor at play here but this is one of my all time favorite horror movies. I can’t wait for it to be far enough in the past that I can show it to people who have never heard of it.
Jake: 6 - The Ring is a modern horror classic. What it did to set the world ablaze and pave a road for more mainstream genre success is undeniable, and I respect it for that. I don’t think it holds up nearly as well on repeated viewing, and its age is more than peeking through today, but there is still enough good here for anyone who remotely likes horror to give it a watch.