The Ring (2002): A Horror Film That Subverts Resolution

The Ring

        “The Ring” is easily one of my favorite horror films and I’m grateful to my friends for introducing me to it and “The Grudge.” I will review the original Japanese Horror films at some point, and if I can find an English translation of the book “Ring,” will be reading that as well. This was a horror film that follows a lot of horror tropes but does them so well and manages to subvert expectations during the film, which is part of what makes a monster or concept scary.

       The film was directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Ehren Kruger and produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and based off the book “Ring” by Koji Suzuki and the Japanese film “Ringu” by Hiroshi Takahashi.

      The story surrounds an urban legend about a video tape that killers the person who views it in seven days. When  Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) is researching the mysterious death of her niece she finds the videotape and watches it, leaving her only seven days to solve the mystery behind it.

This Review does contain SPOILERS

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer is responsible for this amazing soundtrack and truly is a master of his craft. The sense of tension and mystery is largely thanks to the score which keeps the tension going even when there is nothing to fear. It also is great at manipulation of the resolution before upping the threat level again.

The Mystery – The mystery surrounding the tape is the driving drama of the film and it is beautifully presented as Rachel is the journalist who is putting the pieces together and it is through her eyes we get each reveal. This is in part from the great writing.

The Tape – The tape is haunting as we see a tree, a burning a tree, a ladder, a horse, a landscape and a woman jumping with Samara eventually entering the frame and the reveal of the well.

Rachel – Rachel is played by Naomi Watts and for our horror movie heroine…she actually is pretty smart. We see her seeking to solve the problem the moment she knows something is wrong and in the end she manages to save her son even if Samara can’t be stopped.

Anna Morgan – Shannon Cochran is good as the haunting woman we see who seems cursed and not all there. This is from her being insane which we are left wondering if it was happening because of what she did to get Samara or if Samara is the one responsible. Regardless, all is not right with the Morgans.

Richard Morgan – Richard didn’t want a child so he kept Samara locked away in the barn with the horses and ignore the violence she was doing. Brian Cox plays a great morally grey character as we see a man who deeply loved his wife but was controlling about Samara and clearly abusive to her, whether to protect himself and his wife or simply because he didn’t want a child is unknown. In the end Samara drives him to kill himself though.

Samara – Daveigh Chase is awesome as the creepy monster child who just wants to kill people. Her interviews at the asylum and the haunting tape she created with her mind make her an otherworldly being that doesn’t care about anything beyond being heard. Whether she was always this way or became this way is left up in the air, but she makes a great antagonist as she kills most of the people in this film.

Subverting Resolution – At one point Rachel finds the well and Samara’s corpse and believes she is free now after her mother had tried drowning her in the well. Aidan soon tells her that she was wrong and the well was the one thing holding her back and now she is out in the world. It’s a great subversion as we see Noah no longer getting his happy ending with his son Aidan and ex Rachel as Samara kills him. Subverting the way the movie was going with a happy ever after and a child freed from abuse.

A Story of Abuse – Whether Samara is the abuser or the messed up Morgans are responsible the story of abuse is part of the story. All the Morgans are twisted and messed up in different ways as they seek to hold onto what was or what they want, to the point that they either kill themselves, go insane or begin targeting others. Samara is abuse incarnate as her disregard for all shows her as the sociopath driving the action and the tape.

Okay: Noah – Noah is the boyfriend and ex of Rachel and is okay. He didn’t stand out in any way and was more of a cocky guy who begins to rise to the occasion to be a father for Aidan. I never fully trusted the character though and I don’t know if that was due to the performance or the writing.

Aidan – Aidan is the overly intelligent kid which I put as okay here as I know finding good child actors is hard…but kids talking like adults (which usually is a horror trope) is super annoying as I always saw it as lazy writing. The kids are never allowed to be kids and have to always end up being psychics or spirits.

  This was a great horror movie and one is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to watching the original and can’t wait to do a compare and contrast between them and the ways they are similar and differ. This is a film that manages to captures the horror of the unknown (Samara and her unknown origin) and subverts the spirit just wanting to be released as we learn Samara is a monster who just enjoys killing people. I wish she’d had more to her backstory than that but more can be read into it, which is part of what makes this story so rich.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 One of the best horror films I have ever watched.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): A Great Retelling of the Origins and Rise of Caesar

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

      “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” is the perfect reboot. It honors the original material while still taking an original approach to characters, origins and style. The film is directed by Rupert Wyatt and rather than taking a Nuclear War approach or Time Travel in regards to how the apes became intelligent…he takes the route of an artificial virus that grants intelligence and regeneration of the brain. Without saying more here is the premise. 

    The Premise of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” is Caesar becomes the orphan at a biotech company named Gen-Sys after his mother (Bright Eyes) is killed when she tries to defend him from the testing she went through that made her more intelligent. After the Chimps are ordered to be euthanized but Caesar is saved by the Chimp handler who gives him to the bio-tech scientist Will (played by James Franco) who takes him and raises him. From here the story unfolds.

Pros: Inspiration from the subject material – The movie clearly takes inspiration from “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” with Will in the place of Armando…the one good human compared to all the abusive ones who Caesar comes in contact with. The slave camp is replaced by the Ape Sanctuary (tied to Gen-Sys who is doing testing on Apes) and Caesar’s break in this comes when he feels that Will and his wife Caroline are forced to leave by the owner of the Sanctuary. From here he chooses his people and rises to win them freedom and a home. The Simian Flu is in play as well with it’s beginnings here…but rather than targeting dogs and cats…it targets people. There is also news about the launch of the Space Flight that is the ship that crashes beginning the original “Planet of the Apes.” 

The Writing – The writing is fantastic. The idea of strengthening the human mind through drugs and healing it…in order to prevent or heal Alzheimers is what we are trying to do now. In that way the writing is relevant to today as well as showing the cost of Alzheimers on the person going through it and their family (via Charles Rodman played by John Lithgow). 

The Special Effects – The Apes look like Apes with Andy Serkis once again owning his role, this time as the main character Caesar. We see how he is like an ape but how different he is too (his standing tall) and his voice sounds like how a talking Chimp would probably sound like. 

Caesar – Roddy McDowell was a great Caesar, but Serkis is better. The reasons behind this is the change between “Battle” and “Conquest” isn’t handled as well and neither is his getting the Apes to join him in a slave revolt. He just looks at them. Caesar learns from Maurice how to earn the respect of the Apes and what he needs to make them intelligent (the virus). Serkis’s Caesar’s arc makes much more sense…and his reason for not hurting people makes sense too given that he was raised by humans and we see that being raised by humans. In “Battle” he is already fully grown. 

Will Rodman – Great work to James Franco. His character is complex – Ethics versus Job…and you can see how he grows to care for Caesar and is in the end the one who needs to let go because Caesar has chosen to lead his people. He is fantastic in this movie. 

Charles Rodman – John Lithgow gives us a reason to motivate Will to find the cure to Alzhiemers and he does it masterfully. We see his powerlessness and the moments of hope when the virus is helping his brain become sharper…to when it is all lost. 

Maurice – The Orangutan adviser is the one who teaches Caesar how to integrate and become a leader and is also the one shows Caesar that the apes as they are currently don’t have the wisdom to get out of anarchy, leading Caesar to get the virus and use it make the apes as intelligent as him. 

Dodge Landon – Tom Felton plays a wonderfully cruel character. He is the character who says, “Get your hands off me you damn dirty ape.” Showing how the words are used to oppress and how the apes are seen by most people. His death when he tries to kill Caesar is rewarding because of how despicable he is. Playing Malfoy taught him well. 

Buck – The Gorilla who Caesar frees first and goes through the cycle of healing from his abuse. He is a great character who has a sad death. It is a fantastic death too though, he fracking punches a Helicopter out of the air! 

Gen-Sys – We see a complex corporation! The Chimp handler stands up for the chimps even though he caves and Will even quits at some point. We see that it isn’t simply a bad company even though profit is it’s main drive…and not people…which leads to the spread of the Simian Flu, so there is that. 

The Apes – We get to see the social dynamic between them as Caesar integrates and becomes their leader. There is complexity with Rocket as the Alpha before Caesar takes him out and makes him a leader underneath him. It is great since Rocket uses brute force but Caesar uses it with a mixture of knowledge and tact. He doesn’t want fear, he wants respect…unlike rocket who just wants fear.

Liberation – We see Caesar organize and teach them, build connections and free the other apes from Gen-Sys. It is great rising action leading to the climax of the battle as all apes in San Francisco become free. 

The final fight – We see strategy as the Apes and Police fight on the Golden Gate bridge…from a bus being used to protect from gunfire, to a gorilla punching a helicopter out of the air…and apes using the upper and lower part of the bridge to reach their opponents. It is a great fight, far better than the one in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.”  

The Message – The message is one of cautiousness, that before new technologies are used they should be tested and that all life that we know to be intelligent should be respected. It was a good message. 

Okay: The antagonists John Landon (Brian Cox) and Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) – John owns the Ape Sanctuary and doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything more than greed, same goes for Steven. They do this well but the roles aren’t memorable and could have been played by anyone. They don’t elevate the role the way Dodge was. Steven goes between being seen as super cautious and super reckless…he is what the script needs him to be basically. 

Caroline (Frieda Pinto) – She’s generic love interest who I wish had been given more to do. She is their for Caesar and after their for Will and that is the most of her role is. Still, much more depth than Areanna and Nova. 

Cons – Not enough time with the Apes – We’ll probably get this in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the upcoming sequel…but I wanted to see more of the relationship between the different types of Ape. We never really got that outside of Caesar’s relationships. That is the only con I can think of besides fleshing out the characters I listed as okay. 

    After re-watching this film after not seeing it for some time…it is one of my favorite films. It is better than the Original Planet of the Apes Series as far as execution of the story is concerned and even has a better Caesar…which is saying something since Roddy McDowell was quite amazing. I would highly recommend this film. 

My final Score for this film is 9.75 / 10. 

     Only reason it doesn’t have a full score is because of the issues of the okay characters and the con of not giving us more of the complexity among the apes. I must admit that I am quite excited to see “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” after watching this and can’t wait to review it in a few days.