You may not remember when The Ring came out in October 2002, but it was kind of a big deal. Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) directed this remake of the 1999 Japanese horror flick Ring (a.k.a. Ringu). Produced for a robust $40 million, The Ring brought in an astonishing $249.3 million worldwide. Critics liked it. Word-of-mouth was encouraging. Soon, it became the highest-grossing horror remake of all time. And for a good reason: it scared the hell out of people. And today, it’s coming back into the spotlight thanks to a new sequel: Rings. But the gimmick behind these movies is a killer VHS tape created by a ghost girl with stringy black hair. Well, I’ve got news for you, pal. VHS is dead, and ghosts with stringy black hair are so last season. So what is it about The Ring that still strikes fear in our hearts?
It’s Not About The Tape
In 2002, VHS cassette was still a common format. It was in its final years, sure, but the family VCR was still a mainstay. A videotape was a mundane household item. The Ring smartly played on a relatable scenario — the mystery tape. Anyone who’s old enough to have recorded something on a VCR remembers having to find out what was an unlabeled tape. It could be X-Files reruns, home movies, anything. But for today’s younger audiences (for whom Rings is intended), this everyday familiarity with the VHS format just isn’t there. That’s okay, though, because the tape isn’t that important. It was just a vessel for an idea: virality.
To escape the tape’s curse, The Ring’s heroine Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) had to copy the tape and show it to another person. This act spreads the curse like a virus. Because the tape is so strange and frightening, it compels Rachel to copy and share it with others. It’s an organic process. In fact, it’s a lot like how we use the internet today. We find an image, video, or article that produces an intense emotion. Naturally, we are compelled to share it. In 2002, the idea of internet virality or memes wasn’t something on everyone’s mind. YouTube wouldn’t come along for another three years, so online video was very clunky and slow. But VHS was as commonplace then as streaming video is today, so in 2002 the cassette was the perfect package for a viral video.
Through its use of technology, The Ring was strangely prophetic about today’s viral content and memes. Technophobic themes run through The Ring‘s Japanese counterpart, but they’re comparatively subtle. The Ring focuses more tightly on technology and its effects on people. And now, we live in an age where our natural tendency to share content can spread false or toxic information. Being online can cause frightening ideas take root in our minds — things much scarier than a ghostly girl with stringy black hair. It makes a solid case for unplugging your devices. Now Rings will show us how the curse affects a web-powered world, a place where virality is the norm. The J-horror wave crested and broke years ago. The Ring series nearly vanished from American pop culture after an unfortunate 2005 sequel. But it’s back now, just in time to be frighteningly relevant.