I’ve either led a singularly uninteresting life, or, more accurately, I’m not a natural when it comes to storytelling. In either case, I have a relatively small and undeveloped list of stories that I tell my friends; sometimes I wish I had my grandfather’s gift for telling stories. Nevertheless, their one story I love to tell about my introduction to horror movies and it has to do with The Ring. It was the year 2002, late October, and I was just a sprat in middle school, not but thirteen years old. I’m not sure what possessed me to see The Ring, since I was still a horror virgin at the time. Perhaps the scent of Halloween on the crisp October air – oh, who am I kidding, it’s always hot in Texas – the awkwardly muggy air made me delirious; the PG-13 rating probably also had something to do with it. In any case, I dared watch my first real horror film and it scared the crap out of me. I was afraid to let the water get in my eyes when I showered for fear a little girl with black hair and a white dress would appear as soon I opened my eyes again. I kept the light on in the bathroom beside my bedroom in the hall and my door open, something that I was already growing out of. But the worst was that I had a small TV in my room perched high upon a dresser not far from my bed. I usually slept on the opposite side of the bed from the dresser and never thought much about the television until after I watched The Ring. I never suspected that little ghost girls could climb out of televisions and kill you just because they were mean-spirited; ha ha, mean-spirited, I kill me. Anyhow, it didn’t matter that the television in question had a screen the size of my laptop screen and Samara would either get stuck or come out shorter than a Barbie doll, I was still certain she would get me at any moment. Each night I slept with my back to the television and huddled under the covers, more afraid to see her coming than have her sneak up on me. Somehow, however, the nights passed and I forgot that I was destined to die. I stopped worrying about her and she was effectively gone. A few days later, I went to a Halloween party or birthday party or some other celebration wherein I dressed up and danced with girls; though no ladies man, I was cuter back then and I can safely say I danced with all the honeys. As the party was winding down, I started talking to a group of friends and we got onto the subject of movies. Somebody brought up The Ring and it only took me a moment to remember what I had blissfully forgotten; it was the seventh night since I had seen the film and I was royally screwed. I joked about it with my friends, but I was pretty certain that even though The Ring was fictional and Samara had failed to phone ahead about how I had seven days left to live, she was going to come out of my pint-sized TV and scare me to death. Yet, when it came time to go to bed, it didn’t take long to fall asleep, in spite of a few anxious thoughts, and I slept with nary a nightmare… And that’s how I defeated the evil, haunted VHS format and replaced it with the DVD; if you don’t know what VHS is, you’re probably not tall enough to ride The Abyssal Vault. And you should bug your parents about primitive technology.
The movie starts with a pair of high school girls, Katie and Becca, having a sleepover and teasing each other. Becca tells the story of an evil videotape that kills you seven days after you watch it. Naturally, Katie has seen the tape and she gets killed. Not long after we’re introduced to our main character, Rachel, a reporter with a creepy son named Aidan who was friends with the now dead teen. Rachel and Aidan go to the funeral, where Rachel learns that the girl’s heart stopped and that every person who watched the tape has died; she decides to investigate when urged by Katie’s mother. Rachel finds the evil tape at the lodge at Shelter Mountain; thanks to youtube, you too can die in seven days if you watch the video here. She steals the tape and takes it back to her home to have it analyzed with the help of a video lab and her ex-husband, Noah. After researching the images in the tape, she figures out the dark-haired woman in the tape is Anna Morgan, a horse breeder who lived on Moesko Island, who jumped off a cliff after her horses drowned themselves. Rachel decides to go to the island, spurred by an increasing conviction that the tape really is cursed after she has several disturbing nightmares and her son Aidan watches the tape. She goes to Moesko Island with Noah and investigates the farm Anna Morgan lived on, while he goes to the mental hospital Anna Morgan stayed at to dig up her records. Rachel meets Richard, Anna’s husband, and he denies that he had a daughter; she later learns from a local doctor that the daughter, Samara, was adopted. Noah finds out that Anna’s daughter was at the institution and finds that there is a missing video interview with Samara, a video last checked out by Richard Morgan. Rachel breaks into the Morgan house and comes across the missing video by chance. She confronts Richard about the interview, but Richard commits suicide by electrocuting himself in a bathtub. With Noah, she investigates the barn where Samara slept and discovers a picture of a tree on a hill, the same one she saw at Shelter Mountain. The pair travels to the Shelter Mountain lodge where she first discovered the tape and find an old well beneath the cabin. Rachel is knocked down the well and has a vision of Samara’s death; Anna pushed her into the well, perhaps disturbed by Samara’s evil. Rachel and Noah think they have put Samara’s spirit to rest, but Noah is still killed by Samara because Samara is really just evil. Rachel is saved because she copied the tape, helping propagate its evil, so she makes her son do the same to keep him from being killed.
The Ring does not scare me as it once did, though even the best horror movies lose their punch after you’ve watched them several times. Nevertheless, it still works for me because it has a surreal flavor of horror that I love and the film maintains a brooding tension throughout that keeps it interesting after multiple viewings. The surreal nature comes from the various images recurring from the video tape, images of mundane things like ladders, chairs, and the ring of light that have a strange, sinister quality, made all the more evil when we realize what they signified for Samara; Samara was effectively incarcerated in her loft in the barn when her parents removed the ladder; the chair Rachel sees is either the same chair that Samara sat on in front of the TV, her only companion in the loft, or the chair she sat in during the interview recorded in the missing video; the ring, of course, is the ring of light emanating around the stone well cover, which she saw for seven days before she died. However, there are other eerie things that don’t have that logical connection with Samara’s story, further lending to the sense of surreal horror. For instance, those who watch the evil tape will have nosebleeds, faces distorted in photographs, and a compulsion to black out photographs of faces and to draw black rings. It’s not entirely clear why these things would happen, but they’re still creepy. Such is the beauty of surreal horror. Scary events are made more unsettling because they are incomprehensible; they don’t obey real world logic. That incomprehensibility bolsters the central mystery surrounding Samara. Where did she come from? Richard said Anna was never supposed to have a child. Does that mean she was adopted or did Anna really bear her, perhaps with sinister help? Why did her father trap her in the barn loft and why did her mother throw her down a well? Were Samara’s parents punishing an innately evil child or did their abuse foster the evil that outlasted Samara’s death? The film does not answer these questions, but the mystery and surreal horror are what keep the film compelling ten years after the film first scared the crap out of me.