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The Ring (2002)

Stories featuring evil children date back as far as Village of the Damned, The Exorcist and The Omen. Even today, there seems to be a rule that children under the age of 12 in horror movies can be the scariest antagonists, because you expect children to be innocent, to need our protection. Samara Morgan is about to show us a new generation of evil children…

The Ring is a psychological horror movie directed by Gore Verbinski and a remake of the Japanese movie Ringu, in turn based on the book Ring by Koji Suzuki. It stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Daveigh Chase, and Brian Cox.

When 16-year-old Katie Embry dies under mysterious really freaking weird circumstances, the event hits her 9-year-old cousin Aidan especially hard. After the funeral, Katie’s mother, Ruth, asks her sister Rachel, an investigative reporter, to investigate Katie’s death, as the poor girl was found in a closet with a horrifying expression on her face, as though she’d been literally scared to death. The only other witness to Katie’s death, her friend Becca, was left so traumatized that she had to be committed to a mental institution. Rachel’s quest brings her to the cabin where Katie had spent the weekend with friends a week before her death, where she finds a mysterious videotape. Upon watching it, she sees a nightmarish stream-of-consciousness series of images flicker across the screen, and once the tape has ended, she receives a phone call informing her that she has a week to live. Yay. Now Rachel races against this deadline to unlock the secrets behind the videotape in the hopes of breaking this curse before it’s too late.

When The Ring was first released, I admit I was a bit skeptical. I’d become jaded on campy slasher movies that rely on blood and guts for their scares, and I was starting to think that there were no really scary horror movies anymore. Then I saw this little wonder in the theater, and I knew that there was still somebody out there with the talent to really scare the piss out of people, without showing everything. And Samara is a new twist on the typical horror villain: she kills pretty much indiscriminately – you see the tape, you’re gonna die in a week. She doesn’t go after the druggies or the sexually active – she has more of a blast radius than crosshairs. Once she has her hooks into you, you absolutely cannot run far enough to get away from her. Adding another element is the fact that this is a remake of a Japanese ghost story – the onryo. Sure, many Western ghosts can be vanquished by helping them find closure, by helping them solves a problem left unfinished, even if it’s their own murder. Not the onryo. She’ll just keep on going. And she will get you. The fact that you don’t see what she does that leaves her two on-screen victims looking like that makes it infinitely worse, leaving us to come up with our own theories. And all this malevolence is locked inside something as innocent as a videocassette.

The cast is sparse but well-chosen: Naomi Watts as Rachel, the tenacious reporter on a tight schedule, forced to use all her investigating skills to hopefully avert her own death, David Dorfman as Aidan, the benevolent counterpart to Samara’s Creepy Child, and of course Daveigh Chase as Samara herself, innocent and childlike on the surface but with a chewy center of uncontrolled psychic abilities fueled by a simmering hatred for a world that has rejected her; I see big things in Ms. Chase’s acting future. In the supporting cast, Brian Cox, pre-X-Men is a tragic man, grieving the death of his wife years ago and feeling guilty about the relief he feels over the loss of his daughter. Martin Henderson as Rachel’s ex Noah doesn’t offer us enough to get to know him, however, leaving him as just a harsh lesson about why you should be afraid of unlabelled videotapes.

While it may be difficult to see the menace in video tapes anymore, in today’s world of YouTube and writeable DVD’s, an unstoppable evil wrapped in a package of innocence still endures as an effective horror menace. What makes this movie terrifying is the impending threat, combined with things you don’t really think about until later, getting together and laying eggs in your unconscious mind until, hours later, the realization hits you. If you’re looking for that type of subtle horror movie, pick up The Ring and watch it in the dark.

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