Scriptwriting is hard. There are a million balances to strike, not the least of which is judging just how much information you give your audience. Explain too little and your reader either won’t understand what’s going on or won’t feel satisfied. Explain too much and, well, your art becomes like the movies on this list.
Getting too many answers can often make a story less exciting. It can destroy characters. It can make a world seem smaller than it did before. It can even make the events of a story seem less realistic. Above all, over-explaining takes space that could have been occupied by our own imaginative process and replaces it with something more finite and, therefore, less interesting.
That’s not to say this impulse to explain isn’t understandable. As stated before, there are consequences for under-explaining and, moreover, it makes sense that a writer would want to reveal more about the fictional world they’ve put their readers in and, in that respect, all the films on this list are due a bit of our sympathy.
Nonetheless, they are all lessons in the value of leaving some things a bit vague in fiction – of leaving audiences a bit of imaginative space in the narrative where their own minds can conjure things much more affecting than a simple explanation ever could.
10. The Ring (2002)
The fact that the Ring over-explains itself a bit is not a surprise. Its source material, a much lesser-known Japanese novel, is less of a mystical horror-fantasy narrative and more of a pandemic narrative, where figuring out exactly how the pandemic will spread is part of the point (it also has far less likeable characters who have luckily been altered or removed entirely from the film adaptation).
Though the film is much more of a straight horror story than its pandemic-focused source material, an emphasis on explanation does survive The Ring’s slight generic readjustment.
On some level, having well-defined rules works in this movie. The whole central conceit of dying seven days after watching a cursed video tape is an interesting one. It leaves a ticking clock hanging over the events of the film, increasing tension and scares as the film progresses.
However, certain explanations take away from that same tension.
For example, it is discovered that the ghostly antagonist of the film, Samara, was killed after being enclosed in a well. How long can one survive in a well? Seven days, states the protagonist of the film.
It all comes across as a bit silly. A ghost gives you 7 days to die after watching a video tape because… it took her seven days to starve or die of thirst in a well? Aside from that logic being specious at best, it also robs the central conceit of the movie of its mystique. Instead of being this almost random, ticking clock, one that embodies a vague fear generated by the growing prevalence of in-home media consumption, we learn that it all actually due to a girl surviving a very particular amount of time in a well somewhere.
Now, giving answers to the viewer is basically a necessity in a film like this: an investigative horror movie that’s as much detective fiction as horror fiction. However, trying to tie up all loose ends inevitably ends in some silliness that will undercut the more impactful horror moments of the film, as is the case here.