As a long time fan of the many adventures of Samara Morgan and her Japanese inspiration Sadako, I was incredibly excited to see Rings, and here are some thoughts on the latest addition to the series. I mean, I could call it a review, but it’s more fangirl whining, I don’t know.
It will contain spoilers for the entire series, so it is under a read more 🙂
Okay, first and foremost, I have to say the revamped Samara looks great. The contortion of her movements has been improved, there is less full on views of her face, which was a major issue with some of the earlier films for me, her whole look is just a lot more unsettling and closer to the original Sadako look, which is a massive improvement. That was really the only positive I had going into the movie. I found the trailers incredibly disappointing, as a lot of the footage seemed like a shot for shot remake of the first movie, and the rest just seemed like a collection of horror cliches, with moody lighting. They also spoiled a massive plot point during promotion for the movie by basically yelling from the rooftops about the rebirth storyline, and the idea of a tape within a tape, so considering how long I had waited for the movie, and how many times it had been pushed back, I was a little apprehensive.
The film began with a plane being taken down by Samara so that she can claim another victim, with it being made apparent that many people have seen the tape before, and that it has become widespread. This is then somewhat abandoned, as a group of college students, led by their shady professor begin investigating the tape, as if they’ve never heard of it. It can’t be both ways, either the curse is out there and killing lots of people, or it isn’t….
The film expanded on the idea of young people experimenting with the tape, that was first explored in the short “Rings”, which originally bridged the gap between the first two films, which I think would have worked better as a standalone film (which arguably, they had already done, but now I’m just being pedantic…), rather than trying to do that and the rebirth storyline, AND the tape within a tape storyline. As can often be the case with horror, Rings did at times try to do a little too much without giving each thing time to breathe, and sometimes it felt like I was watching two or three separate movies at once. I can understand that as a genre, horror may feel it has a lot to prove, and a need to show it can hang with all those “proper” films that actually get acknowledged by the award shows, but trying to force too many things into one movie just makes it seem convoluted and a little rushed, and while I admire the ambition, it may have been better to not overload the audience with stories.
A lot of key story points that came from the other storylines could have easily been included in the college storyline with things still making just as much, if not more sense. The main characters (beyond Samara) are Julia and Holt, two young adults who are deeply in love. Holt gets tied up in the experiments with the tape, and Julia, decides to act as his tail and watch his copy, to get Samara off his back, because apparently nobody learned anything from Romeo and Juliet, and teen couples are still out here with death wishes. They go on a road trip to discover more about Samara’s origins, because Julia notices extra scenes when trying to make a copy of the tape.
Now, this could have easily been done by just having a group of the students discovering this and trying to solve the mystery. The reason I say this is because a lot of the scenes with Julia and Holt exploring Samara’s backstory felt very much like a retread of Rachel and Noah doing so in The Ring, so using a different group of characters and a different dynamic to investigate Samara’s backstory would have felt less stale. I don’t know if the writers intended for there to be so many similarities to the first movie, but it seemed a little lazy, rather than seeming like any kind of tribute or homage (more on this later). It almost seemed like they tried to recreate the isolation of the first film, but didn’t quite get there.
The idea of a tape within a tape is fine, I suppose, but parts of it didn’t make much sense (this is becoming a recurring theme). It was implied that the new scenes in the tape were appearing to Julia because she wasn’t afraid of Samara, and so Samara felt she could use her to find her body and free her soul. Fine, okay, I guess, but there was a whole programme of college kids who were also not afraid of Samara until it was too late, and were all too willing to watch her tape and go on her ghost train, so what made Julia so special? Why were none of them shown the bonus clips?
You could also argue that Samara had the opportunity to lead quite a few characters from The Ring Two to her body, to free her, but apparently didn’t want to. Dr Temple, for example, who was caring for Aiden Keller in hospital while he was being possessed by Samara, and isolated Rachel from the situation would have been a perfect candidate. If she could persuade her to kill herself, she could probably trick her into finding her body and setting her free. I’m sure along the way and through the years since Rachel sent her body back to her home town, Samara met a lot of people she could have tried this on, and she could have offered the same level of guidance and protection she did to Julia, but apparently, none of them could manage it, and Samara wasn’t willing to offer the assistance with something that was apparently so important to her. So again, I ask, what made Julia so special? I can’t imagine it is anything in Julia’s backstory, because honestly, she didn’t have one, so what was it that made Samara pick her? Some have argued that it may be because Julia witnessed (sort of) Samara killing someone, but so did Becca from the first movie, and Samara didn’t exactly decide to become her BFF, so what gives?
I’m aware that the reality of this is that the writers probably hadn’t come up with this plot point until far after the release of The Ring and probably The Ring Two, and just needed a way to make Julia seem special because she was the new protagonist, but they could have at least tried to come up with a better story explanation than “Samara just liked her, okay?”.
Speaking of better story explanations! One of my favourite characters from the series makes a reappearance, (I mean, kind of, I’m guessing hiring Johnny Galecki meant they couldn’t afford Sissy Spacek…) Evelyn finally got a backstory! Evelyn is Samara Morgan’s biological mother, and all we had known about her before was that she had arrived at a home for unwed mothers, given birth to Samara, tried to kill Samara and then been sectioned. We found out that Evelyn was a gifted musician, with a bright future ahead of her, until she vanished without a trace, leaving the entire town dismayed.
Now, this leads to a key point in Evelyn’s backstory, and also Samara’s, and it kind of throws a lot of things about Samara up in the air, because there is now no real explanation for them. For example, Samara, while being very afraid of water, even before she was pushed down a well, has an unnatural level of control over water, she seems to have some influence over animals, both frightening them, and being able to persuade them to commit suicide (by running into the sea and drowning themselves, interestingly enough), she possesses the power of Nensha, again, before she is even thrown in a well, and her biological mother, Evelyn attempted to drown her, because she claims Samara told her of the evil spirits that were within her.
Evelyn, as it all turns out is kidnapped, imprisoned and raped by Burke, the local priest, who later left the church, and is instrumental, even if by accident in leading Julia and Holt to Samara’s body, which he creepily keeps in a wall of his house. This is where I have an issue, all of Samara’s abilities that were present before her death suggests a demonic connection, specifically one involving water. Evelyn’s original plan to kill Samara is foiled by the fact that Samara begins screaming when taken towards water, and it is mentioned by the nuns that the only time Samara ever cried or made a sound was when taken towards water. In the second movie, as Rachel investigates Samara’s origins, and initially finds Evelyn, she finds a book, intended for Samara, showing demonic, water based imagery. Evelyn was attempting to kill Samara to “send it back”, and urged Rachel to do the same in the second movie, every time Samara kills someone or something, whether before or after her own death, it normally involves water, the initial groundwork was all there for a Rosemary’s Baby under the sea extravaganza reveal, but it just went in another direction, which just seemed weird to me.
Samara’s father being human, albeit an evil human was just a bit deflating, especially as it then offers little explanation for her initial powers and sadistic nature. The source of Samara’s evil is left to the audience’s interpretation, and the only one we can really have is that she was evil and manifested such power because her father was a sadistic rapist, but there is still no explanation as to why she was evil, because Samara wouldn’t have been aware of her origins or what her father did to her mother until at least a few years into her time with the Morgans, and she was already apparently evil before that, so….
While I get what they were going for, the idea that evil comes from trauma is a little overplayed, especially in the horror genre, and doesn’t even make sense, because as I said, Samara couldn’t possibly have known until at least a little later on the corcumstances of her birth, and she was already evil by that point. The only other explanation I can grasp is that they were implying that Samara being a product of rape, rather than the knowledge she had of her mother’s pain was the reason for her being evil, and that doesn’t sit well with me. A horror movie has access to the supernatural, and a whole host of ways to avoid victim blaming, so it kind of sucks that they went with such a regressive trope instead of looking at different options.
A backstory for Evelyn was nice though, because as great as Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of her in The Ring Two was, there wasn’t much that we discovered.
The lack of Aiden and Rachel Keller was a bit odd. While I can understand them not appearing on screen, there wasn’t even a mention of them. I vaguely remember both Naomi Watts and David Dorfman being attached to Rings initially, but I guess they decided not to proceed in the end, with all the delays, I can see why, so that probably explains it, but the lack of mention in the story was a little weird.
Aiden not being mentioned is understandable, but Rachel literally discovered and excavated the body of Samara Morgan. The discovery of Samara’s corpse was mentioned, but it’s hard to believe that not one character thought to maybe give Rachel a call and get some more information, or try and find out further information from the discoveries she had made?
The aforementioned rebirth storyline was sprinkled through the movie in a way that made the ending a bit obvious. The Ring’s ending was such a shock because while all of the signs had been pointing to the fact that freeing Samara would only end in tears, but it didn’t all come together until the end, and the hints had been subtle enough that you weren’t quite sure how it would go, and why freeing Samara was such a bad idea. Rings however was not as subtle, and the was as predicatble as the jump scares it had been relying on to keep up suspense throughout the somewhat muddled story.
The trailer itself gave away the rebirth storyline anyway, and the film continued in the same pattern, so it was obvious from about ten minutes in that Julia would end up freeing Samara, becoming possessed by her and continuing the curse. Now, if it wasn’t bad enough that the “twist” at the end was obvious, both parts of it had already been in previous films. Rachel had freed Samara, and Aiden had been possessed by Samara, they even reused the visual of Rachel throwing up a long black object, and Aiden looking in a mirror to see Samara. As I said before, there were a lot of visuals borrowed from the previous films throughout the film, and it didn’t like a knowing nod to the series history, but more like daylight robbery.
Overall, I think the movie lost a lot of subtlety that the previous movies had, which was a shame. I mean, I’m glad I saw it, I just kind of wish I had waited for it to come out on DVD, and then waited for it to be reduced by a couple of pounds before I spent money on it, instead of going to see it on release day and paying full price (plus taking out a second mortgage so I could afford popcorn and a drink). It’s a bit of a cookie cutter, watered down, jump scarepalooza that would be ideal as a “My first horror movie”, but it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of the films that came before it.
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