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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Ring

Today in my after-school horror film class, I showed the kids The Ring, and some of the kids got so scared they ran out of the room. It's interesting to watch children who don't extensive knowledge of film structure think a movie is over when the scariest scene is coming up (that was true with Poltergeist, too).

The Ring is a 2002 film, directed by Gore Verbinski, that was adapted from what has become a fertile ground for remakes--the Japanese horror film. This time it is set in Seattle, where two girls begin the thing (reminiscent of the Scream films) discussing a video tape that kills you if you watch it, but not for seven days.

One of the girls is dead of a stopped heart, the other is confined to a mental institution. The girl's mother turns to reporter Naomi Watts to try to get to the bottom of things. In some rather easy steps she finds the tape, watches it, and then gets that warning phone call that says "Seven days" (if only I could have arranged to have my phone ring after the video is shown--the kids would have jumped out of their skins). Her son's father, Martin Henderson, is a photographer and tries to get to the bottom of where the video came from, but it's a clue in the video, a lighthouse, that leads Watts to an island where there has been a lot of tragedy.

The Ring is one of the more effective horror films of this century, and it does it without much gore, sex or profanity, which is how I could show it to my students. Verbinski and his team are successful in creating such a sense of dread that anything can set one off. I particularly liked the use of a lone tree set against the sky, and the almost constant presence of rain (probably why it was set in Seattle). The video in question is also quite creepy, especially when the woman Anna Morgan looks at the camera while facing a mirror.

Watts, who is one of my favorite actresses, finds the right balance of incredulity and dogged persistence, and then amps it up after her son watches the tape. Brian Cox has two scenes, one of them quite shocking, and is his usual reliable self.

When everything seems to be over, and the mystery is solved, there is another scene, a masterpiece of fright, when the little girl climbs out of the well and comes right through the TV set. It has such resonance in today's pop culture that a sequel of sort was released a few weeks ago and a prank was pulled in an electronics store, with a girl dressed like "Samara" seemed to pop out of a TV set.

Of course, given the quick obsolescence of video, nobody is going to die these days. There are no VCRs to play the damn thing.

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