I’ll get to the very simple reason why the trailer for Rings, a reboot of 2002’s The Ring, itself a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ring, loses the plot in its first few seconds. But first, take a moment to watch this fan trailer for the 2002 film, above.
The Ring was excellent for a number of reasons, but I’d start with director Gore Verbinski, who, at his best, is not just a good horror director, but a talented storyteller regardless of genre. Where other filmmakers rely on buckets of gore and frenetic editing, Verbinski applies gravitas and precision. In The Ring, Verbinski's talents turn a silly story about a deadly video into something natural, immediate, and believable. The scares don't push you away, rather each scene invites you deeper and deeper into the slimy plot and before you know it, you're drowning.
Like the film, the fan trailer is a mini-masterwork in pacing. First, we learn the rules of the VHS tape and see its lethal curse. Then we meet our heroine, learn about her professional curiosity, and see that curiosity get the best of her. We learn that the VHS tape's power stems from a mysterious incident involving a young girl. Bit by bit the stakes are raised, with more innocent people being sucked into The Ring’s increasingly powerful blackhole. All the while we, the viewer, get to see the contents of the VHS tape for ourselves. And in the final moment, the long-haired girl climbs from the TV, as if we’re the next victim. (The original official trailer, perhaps even better than the fan creation, is its own thing; far more abstract than modern trailers, it could standalone as an experimental film like a promotional ode to Buñuel)
Perhaps more than any genre, horror, particularly horror built on thrills and not extreme shock or violence, demands confident pacing. Good horror is scary. Great horror is patient. To truly be afraid of something, we must believe it’s real — or at least that it could be real. And to believe something is real, we must first understand how it works. The Ring trailer purposefully explains what the tape is, what it can do, and how it will do it — then reveals just enough of its monster so that our own fears can fill any blanks.
The Rings trailer opens with the monster crawling through the TV. No build. No context. The big reveal is demoted to a jump scare.
The trailer barely finishes setting the table — "the video kills you seven days after you watch it" — when it launches into an inexplicable countdown of the heroine's seven days to solve the mystery, larded with creepy, but meaningless imagery that mistakes spectacle for escalation. The most horrific moment of the trailer involves the heroine tugging hair from her throat. But that happens midway through the trailer, after which things deescalate to a nose bleed and another jump scare. There are creepy-crawlies, spooky hallways, and a little more body horror. Things are not as they seem, or so it seems. Trouble is we never learned how life was before things got weird.
The trailer does build, in its own flashy way, to a second reveal of the monster. You may miss the moment, because it comes in the form of a bird's-eye view of her head rising from bugs and darkness. She's not coming for us. She's simply present. Remember her?
The Rings trailer is the absence of pacing, like a child twisting the volume dial on the car radio. Fittingly, it finishes by snapping the volume to 11, cutting to a Ring-themed plane crash. The twist works, in the most basic sense. Why is the curse menacing a commercial airliner? You'll have to see the movie.
If The Ring fan trailer promises a meticulous spook story, the Rings official trailer promises the Haunted Mansion on too much salvia.
Correction: The original version of this story did not clarify The Ring trailer was made by a fan. The story has been updated for clarity, and also includes a link to the official The Ring trailer.