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The Ring (2002)



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It's unfortunate that The Ring doesn't make any sense, because it tries so hard to make sense, and the failure to do so injures what may be the creepiest movie I've seen in years. Little in The Ring is blatantly out of the ordinary, but it's filmed so unnaturally as to evoke the kind of intensely unsettling feeling that horror buffs are constantly seeking but rarely find. I am reminded of the peeling wallpaper in Barton Fink and any of a number of scenes in Mulholland Drive, except this is a movie wholly devoted to establishing a creepy atmosphere.

It is successful enough in this endeavor that I have to credit it. But it steers wrong in the last fifteen minutes: after wrapping up adequately, it tacks on an epilogue that swipes away our closure and never restores it. In a movie like this, it's not the plot that takes center stage: the plot should be a secondary element that exists to provide a dramatic structure, a drawing and releasing of tension, to support the establishment of a nightmarish mood. When the plot doubles back on itself, assuming the limelight, it unbalances our attention. We are distracted by narrative details we should not be bothered with. Consequently, the final act, though every bit as creepy as what has come before, left me dissatisfied.

As the memory of the film aged in my mind in the hours following, I started to like and admire it again. Severe as the film's wrong turn is, the rest is more than strong enough to compensate. This is a rare horror film that knows how to unsettle us on a psychological level, rather than simply a gut level, and it knows, too, how to do so in an entertaining way.

The Ring is actually the fourth version of this story. The original was a 1995 Japanese made-for-TV film, remade as a theatrical film in Japan in 1998, and again in South Korea in 1999. The theatrical Japanese film is considered the definitive version and spawned a number of sequels, also made in Japan. It's a much simpler film, slightly less creepy than this one but much more cohesive.

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