Why “The Ring” Still Holds Up 20 Years Later

In terms of horror trends the 00’s decade is mostly associated with ultra-violent and gory “torture porn” films like the Saw and Hostel series.  However this very decade was also synonymous with another trend: American remakes of Asian horror films.  Beginning with the massive success of The Ring in 2002, the next few years saw the release of others like The Grudge, One Missed Call, The Eye, Dark Water, The Uninvited, Pulse, and Shutter, among others.

And like all trends, the films were received less and less positively, with the later ones being criticized for just being shot for shot remakes and cheap cash grabs.  But most horror fans would agree that 2002’s The Ring was both the start of and the peak of this trend.  Even now, 20 years later, it holds up frighteningly well and remains genuinely creepy and scary.

Sense of Dread
For many Americans, The Ring was the first exposure they had to Asian Horror, whether they knew it was a remake or not.  Up until that point, American horror films mostly worked around the style of the first act of the film pretending to be a different genre until the horror took over.  For example (aside from the usual opening kill) most slasher films began as teen comedies until the killer showed up.  From Dusk Till Dawn very famously pretended to be a crime thriller for the first half until it suddenly turned into a vampire movie.

Ring 1
It follows the trope of the opening scare/kill scene, but the very next scene has the same level of suspense and tension as the opening one does.

Point being that for most American audiences, horror films had their scary parts when the tension was high, but it also had its “safe” scenes in the beginning or throughout where there was no creepy music or quiet moments where something might jump out at any time.  The Ring, much like many Asian horror films, infused its entire runtime with a sense of dread and tension, right from the very first scene.

Rather than overtly jump out and startle its audience, The Ring creates an uncomfortable atmosphere that it makes its viewer live in during its runtime.  You walk out of the film not really scared, more so disturbed by its ideas, themes, and styles.  All of this is facilitated by Gore Verbinski’s visual style, as well as Hans Zimmer’s incredibly creepy and unsettling musical score, that sounds simultaneously haunting and tragic.

Its Own Identity
One of the easiest pitfalls for any remake to fall victim to is to not do anything different or unique from the original film.  However, The Ring merely takes the premise of 1998’s Ringu, but the new Pacific Northwest setting almost becomes its own character.  The cold, gloomy, and rainy Seattle area makes for the perfect backdrop for Samara and her deadly VHS tape.

Ring 4
Every single frame of the movie just feels devoid of warmth or joy.

And while the original novel and Japanese film used the title “Ring” to refer to the cyclical nature of the videotape’s curse, this version introduced a new visual aspect, via the ring of light at the top of the well.  And even though it’s completely unrealistic that the ring of light would exist if the cover was covering the entire opening, it still makes a distinct and interesting visual theme that is unique to this remake.

Fresh Audience
Another huge reason why The Ring hit such a nerve and remains so memorable (after all, it was the highest grossing horror film of all time until 2017’s It) was that the concept of the “onryō” was very new to American audiences.  For those unfamiliar, an onryō is a long dark haired female ghost, usually a child or young woman, that is part of Japanese folklore.

Ring cover
American audiences were certainly familiar with it AFTER this movie!

Given all the remakes of other Asian horror films that followed, American audiences are certainly familiar with that concept and visual now, but in 2002 that was very much not the case.  Samara’s whole visual style and design was terrifying because it wasn’t something Americans had really seen up to that point.

Couple that with a creepy atmosphere and an ending that featured her coming out of the TV to kill you, and there was an inevitable sense of dread and awe that most people felt watching it.  There’s a reason it’s been parodied and referenced so much since.  And to this day, it remains just as creepy as it was in 2002!

What did you think of The Ring?  Let us know in the comments!

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