The Ring Collection 4K UHD Review: Video Terror’s Diminishing Returns

The Ring (2002) might be one of the most influential horror movies of the new century. Based on the Japanese Ringu, the tone, atmosphere, and techniques were widely copied for movies for most of the decade. There’s a low body count, and an emphasis on creeping terror and mystery that we can see throughout the decade. Even James Wan, who made the other decade defining movie Saw, moved away from torture porn towards the creepy ghost horror of The Ring with his Conjuring and Insidious series.

Buy The Ring Collection 4K UHD

Despite being arguable epochal, The Ring was not much of a series. There’s about a dozen Saw movies, a bunch of Insidious and Conjuring and Paranormal Activity movies. But only three The Ring films, all collected here, in this new 4K release.

I think the reason for this is that The Ring‘s story is so very specific. It involves a haunted VHS tape, a technology that was on its way out even as the film was being released. And most of the film’s power comes from some remarkably effective scenes that are so specific, they are essentially unrepeatable. There’s the initial death from video tape, the scene at the bottom of the well. And then the absolute climax when the ghost crawls out of the TV. You can’t just do them over and over again and expect to remain effective.

If you haven’t ever heard of The Ring, the story is essentially about an urban legend coming true. There’s a certain video tape that, when you watch it, you’re subjected to a terrifying series of images. Then, when it’s over, your phone rings, and a girl’s voice says, “Seven days.”

That’s it. Your death date has been announced, and there’s nothing you can do. This happens to the niece of Rachel Keller (played by the luminous Naomi Watts.) Rachel’s an investigative reporter and overhears kids at the wake talking about the videotape they all saw at a weekend retreat. Why parents in movies are constantly allowing their teenage kids to go on co-ed weekend retreats is a question I’ve been asking myself since Edward Scissorhands. But anyway…

All four kids who went away together are dead. Rachel investigates, finds the videotape, and watches it. So she gets her own deadline – seven days to solve the mystery or die. It’s a great premise for a horror story, with all kinds of opportunities for frights, which The Ring mines enthusiastically. Rachel’s investigation takes her from Seattle to an island community where a local family has a tragic past.

In the meantime, Rachel’s kid happens to see the video himself, and the urgency to solve the mystery increases. The kid… is one of the bigger changes from the Japanese film, and one of the parts of The Ring I think does not work so well. He’s precocious, maybe psychic, and is obviously cribbed from The Sixth Sense.

Gore Verbinski directed The Ring, his first big success before making the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It’s beautifully shot, and has atmospheric, often haunting imagery. It often looks like an odd urban fairy tale… which is one of the reasons I prefer the Japanese film. That movie is starkly realistic, so the horror scenes contrast sharply with the everyday reality of the world.

That film was directed by Ringu director Hideo Nakata, who was brought to the U.S. to direct The Ring‘s sequel, unimaginatively titled The Ring Two. In this film, Rachael and her son have moved away to a new town, free from the curse of the video tape… or so they think. Samara, the frightening ghost from the first movie, is apparently not done with this family, and so continues to haunt them.

There’s an opening sequence of death by videotape that parallels the first film, but early on Rachel finds and destroys the videotape, signaling that the movie is not going to be a strict retread of the first film. And it is creepy sometimes in its own right, without making a whole lot of sense.

The most unnerving sequence in the film involves Rachel and her son being singled out by a bunch of deer, who reduce their car to scrap before they can get away. It would have been better had the deer not been dodgy CGI, but it still has an air of bizarre menace that distinguishes the film from its predecessor.

Still, it suffers from logic and story problems. I’ve heard firsthand from one of Nakata’s collaborators about what a difficult time he had working in Hollywood. He made a whole documentary about it, and he’s essentially disowned the film. I called it preposterous in an earlier review but watching it again I felt it had promise. While The Ring is a horror mystery, The Ring Two is essentially a horror fantasy. The first film is practical terror. This one is almost operatic in its growing excess.

Almost 12 years later, the dormant franchise was revived with Rings, a new sequel no one asked for. It made money, but apparently, the critical reception strangled the revival in its crib. And with good reason. This film is simultaneously dull, ugly, senseless, and stupid.

The Ring horror has a sort of intimacy. Watching the videotape, having the phone call, those events isolate the victim. Rings begins with Samara crashing a freaking airliner. And the tone deafness does not stop there.

The main characters are Julia and Holt. He is as unremarkable as Rachel’s ex in the first film (who matters so much, I didn’t even mention him in my review). Matilda Lutz, who plays Julia, is an order of magnitude demotion from Naomi Watts. They’re also boring teenagers. Colt goes to college, disappears. Julia investigates.

She comes across the only clever idea the movie has. A college professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) has seen the tape, survived it, and decided to make it his life’s work. He’s going to find scientific evidence of the afterlife. That’s neat. The movie throws it away as quickly as possible. Julia watches the tape… but her tape ends up differently than the regular one. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I do not like the scary tape in The Ring. In Ringu, it looks super creepy and strange. It seems like psychic residue of a tortured soul. In The Ring, it looks like a Nine Inch Nails video. It is overproduced. Rings takes that overproduction and adds a bunch of garbage CGI.

This CGI becomes “visions” which lead Julia to a small town where she needs to find Samara’s skeleton to burn it. Some story ensues. It’s never interesting.

Both The Ring and The Ring Two have different aesthetics, and both are great. The Ring feels to me like a fairy tale, which I do not think is the right approach to the material. Still, it’s beautiful and aesthetically rich. The Ring Two has Hideo Nakata’s realism contrasted with fantastical imagery, which I deeply appreciate. Rings looks to me like… garbage. It’s painted in grays and browns, ugly cinema clearly shot on digital with a lack of contrast and clear colors. It’s also directed mostly like a TV show, with too many mid shots on faces and a complete lack of vision.

It also rewrites some of the story’s history, for no better reason than to introduce an unnecessary villain. The villain is not interesting. The scares are not interesting. The only time I ever felt anything was some cheap jump scares. Rings sucks.

And it doesn’t look very good. It’s the most recent of the films, and even in 4K it has the smeary, ugly quality of early digital film. It looks to my eyes significantly worse that the other two films, which were shot on film. That’s the source, though, I believe, not the transfer. The imagery on these 4Ks is more detailed than on the previous releases. The Ring Two, to my knowledge, has not had either a Blu-ray or 4K release in the U.S., so that’s a particularly welcome addition.

The Ring Collection is an odd thing to recommend because I think it’s more interesting for its legacy than its content. The Ring is a beautiful but uneven adaptation of a great horror movie. It’s not even Gore Verbinski’s best horror movie – I prefer A Cure for Wellness, the last movie he’s made to date. The Ring Two is finally in HD form, though the director’s cut is only available on Blu-ray. It fleshes out some of the characters, and has more of Simon Baker, who gives a great performance in a rather thankless role. Rings… frankly, I found rather worthless. If you love these movies, here they are. Have at them. But The Ring, for all its success, might be more remarkable for what it wrought than what it is.

The Ring Collection 4K UHD has been released by Shout Factory. In include each film both on 4K UHD and Blu-ray. The Ring Two includes an unrated director’s cut of the film. The theatrical edition of the film has a commentary by Emily Higgins and Billy Dunham.

Extras on The Ring (Blu-ray only) include the new “Ghost Girl Gone Global” (92 min), a feature-length documentary about the transition of Ringu to the Hollywood The Ring; “Don’t Watch This” (16 min), deleted footage from the videotape; “Rings” (17 min), a short film bridging The Ring and The Ring Two; “The Origin of Terror” (4 min) about urban legends; and “Cast and Filmmaker Interviews” (8 min.)

Extras on The Ring Two include “Fear on Film: Special Effects” (6 min); “Faces of Fear: The Phenomenon” (6 min); “Samara: From Eye to Icon” (6 min); “The Power of Symbols” (5 min); “The Making of The Ring Two” (13 min); a trailer and deleted scenes.

Extras on Rings include “Terror Comes Full Circle” (13 min), about the initial impact of the original film; “Resurrecting the Dead: Bring Samara Back” (9 min) about reviving the series (whoops); and “Scary Scenes” (7 min). There are also some deleted scenes.

Posted in , ,

Kent Conrad

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter