It’s a nightmare of disconnected images encased in the plastic shell of a videotape. It always knows when you’re watching it. And seven days after you do, it kills you. It’s The Ring. And Katie tells her friend Becca that she watched it a week ago. . . .
Now Becca spends her days at a mental hospital in a sedated fog after seeing Katie’s rotting corpse. And others are already dead, or dying. An investigative journalist with an eye for a good story, Katie’s cousin, Rachel, tracks down the tape. She watches it. And she promptly receives a phone call with only two hissed words: “Seven days.” Rachel’s obviously a little scared. She makes a copy of the tape and enlists the help of her friend and former lover, Noah, to unravel its mystery. He watches it. And he receives a phone call as well. Now Rachel has moved beyond scared to absolutely terrified. Realizing that the fragmented images on the tape are actually a message, Rachel and Noah follow the clues to the horse farm of Richard Morgan. But it’s no ordinary horse farm. The horses are all dead (they drowned themselves). Richard’s wife has committed suicide. And his daughter, Samara, has disappeared. Time is ticking.
positive elements: A couple of tangential themes have a positive slant, such as the need for parents to be more involved with their children and the importance of intact families. Rachel remarks at several points that she knows she works too much and by the end of the film she devotes a chunk of quality time to her son, Aidan. At one point Noah and Aidan discuss their relationship as father and son, with Aidan saying he doesn’t really want a father and Noah saying he has stayed out of Aidan’s life because he didn’t want to be a bad parent. (With obvious pain, Noah recounts his own father’s failed attempts at parenting.) Despite his comments to the contrary, Aidan shows joy when it seems like Noah and Rachel are going to reunite.
spiritual content: The Ring posits a world where marauding and malevolent spirits seek to kill as many as possible without rhyme or reason. Various mystical goings-on occur as well. The videotape appears quite literally out of thin air, with no identifying marks. Someone always calls those who watch the tape within seconds of them having finished it. During an interview, Samara says that various microfiche pictures she owns simply appear ex nihilo. Those who view the tape mysteriously spring nosebleeds and their faces blur when recorded on film. A corpse that seems merely a day old dissolves into a skeleton in a matter of seconds. Water leaks from phones and televisions. Nails and screws spontaneously pull away from their moorings. A rotting figure physically steps out of a television. Aidan displays a precognitive ability and says he speaks with people who aren’t present. Horses fall into a mad frenzy around those who have viewed the tape. Altercations with figures in dreams leave bruises on people once they awake. All in all, it’s the typical and inexplicable stuff of supernatural horror films.
sexual content: Although nothing is shown, Rachel and Noah obvious had a sexual relationship in the past. Near the end of the film they kiss and hold hands. In an early scene, Rachel appears in her underwear while changing clothes. A line of dialogue and a photograph indicate that Katie and her boyfriend had slept together. One shot on the video shows a group of squiggling larvae turn into writhing naked bodies (they’re so tiny that no explicit nudity is visible).
violent content: A man in a bathtub vividly electrocutes himself. A frantic horse breaks out of its trailer when Rachel approaches and throws itself off of a ferry where it is promptly shredded by the propellers (audiences see the water behind the ship turn red). A woman strangles someone and throws the body into a well (unbeknownst to her, the person is still alive). A woman is struck by a TV. Richard Morgan hits Rachel with a halter. While trying to find more clues about the tape, Noah trashes a hotel room and violently axes up its floor. Rachel smashes a videotape, then burns it. While trying to flee, a man slices open his hands on broken glass, leaving behind bloody handprints. Spirits kill numerous people (the gory aftermath is sometimes seen).
crude or profane language: Close to 10 uses of the s-word along with six milder profanities and four crudities. God and Jesus’ names are profaned nearly 10 times.
drug and alcohol content: Becca jokes about stealing Vicodin from Katie’s mom. While talking with a bunch of Katie’s under-18 friends, Rachel bums a cigarette from one and jokes about getting high when she was younger. One of the friends of Katie’s family hypothesizes that she must have been on drugs since she died from a massive stroke. Noah smokes cigarettes.
other negative elements: Noah lies about his identity in order to gain access to medical files. Samara says that she wants to hurt people. The tape, which audiences view several times, features disturbing black and white images such as a nail piercing a finger, something slithering out of a mouth, dead horses on a beach and severed digits in a box. Fast edits show explicit images of the horror-transfixed, decaying corpses of those who died from viewing the tape. [Spoiler Warning] By far the worst aspect of the film involves its plot twist at the end. In order to placate an evil spirit, Rachel disseminates copies of the film, guaranteeing that even more people will die, but that she and Aidan will live.
conclusion: Surprise endings have become all the rage. The Sixth Sense and Signs provide stimulating and creative conclusions. Abandon and The Rich Man’s Wife close so unconvincingly that they are instantly laughable. But The Ring is in a category of its own. Well-shot, decently acted and genuinely scary, this remake of the smash Japanese hit Ringu relentlessly betrays its audience’s trust. A happy ending suddenly and inexplicably becomes terrifying. Sympathetic characters turn evil in an instant. And frightened audiences leave with the message: Looking out for yourself is better than noble self-sacrifice, even if it means subjecting others to the same nightmarish end you yourself are trying to avoid. Want my appraisal of this tarnished Ring? Forget the obvious plot holes. It’s the dishonorable theme and harsh mysticism that drive its value below zero.