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But, what makes The Ring so scary? The plot’s really kind of dumb. A haunted videotape that kills teenagers in 7 days. In order to discover what makes The Ring work as a masterpiece in the horror genre, one needs to obtain the DVD and frame by frame analyze it. What you will discover is it’s not the movie; it’s the technology of the production.
1) Subconscious imagery.
a) Throughout the film, images are presented that have little or nothing to do with the actual plot, but are some of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on film. A nail bursting through a fingertip, a beachfront covered with dead horses, a solitary chair spinning in mid-air, a woman committing suicide, worms eating rotten meat and a dozen or so more.
2) The use of subliminals and micro-edits.
a) Immediately after the most shocking scenes, the image of the ring, itself, is flashed on the screen in a single frame – 1/35 of a second. Watching the film in real-time, you’ll never catch this image, but if you frame by frame it, you will be able to count the ring image appearing no less than 10 times in the film.
b) Those shots where you see Samara – the evil demon child behind the videotape – are extremely fast cuts – lasting no longer than 1 second. The same holds true with the cuts of her victims, who die with their faces horribly contorted. But, it’s not just the speed of these cuts that make them so horrific. These shots are each broken up into 3 micro-edits – distance, a steadycam moving edit, and finally a close up. The resulting effect is one of unnatural movement and a sense of being pushed at that which we find repulsive.
In one scene for example, a horse jumps off a ferry, crashing to its death. The shot would certainly be painful to watch, if filmed normally – and since we don’t expect it, it catches us even more, off guard. But, take an analytical look at that shot, and you’ll find some fascinating trickery going on. Verbinski shifts the lighting palate back and forth between different grayscale shades, altering the background but not the foreground. He freeze-frames the horse’s fall at 3 points during the movement. He inserts the dead horses on the beach subliminal, and of course ends the shot with the ring image. That shot, by the way, is the climax to an entire scene, rife with similar techniques. You find yourself not only scared to death, but with a strange sense of inability to define exactly what it is, you’re scared of.
3) c) Throughout the film, Verbinski uses a video effect, where he skews the onscreen image, mimicking an analog video tracking error, and at the same time, forces unnatural movements to occur. So, in other words, we’re looking at a normal film image, we suddenly see this skewing and distortion of the image – but then the image jumps awkwardly to one side of the screen. This jarring effect, coupled with the timing of it – it happens during lulls in the action – result in a constant sense of tension throughout the film.
4) Lastly, he marries all this visual tech to a really fascinating psychoacoustic soundtrack. In fact, noticeable in its absence, is any type of standard music score. There is no soundtrack – in the normal sense of the word – in The Ring. What there is however, is a constant low frequency rumble – about 30Hz, punctuated by white noise, and this really eerie tritone – 3 high frequency notes – repeated throughout the piece. Careful attention to the audio portion of the film also reveals a crunching sound, like a tree about to fall over, and a shrill high frequency sound not unlike nails on a chalkboard.
I have watched this movie a dozen times, and gone through it in the above manner an equal number of times. Although I know everything that’s going on, the movie still leaves me with a feeling of dread and disquiet. It’s truly a brilliant example of the use of psychoactive technology to obtain a desired emotional manipulation of the audience. And no other horror film, before or since, uses these techniques.
I have several interesting stories involving times I’ve had people watch the film, but here’s my favorite. I showed it to a friend, whom afterward said it had no real effect on him. 2 weeks later, he called me up and blamed me for a sleepless night. He said he had nightmares all the previous night, and it was my fault – for showing him that stupid movie.
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