Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RINGS: evil is as evil does

I became almost obsessed with The Ring when the American version came out. I managed to track down the Koji Suzuki books the Japanese versions were based on. I used to have a box of "the tape" thanks to a promotion at the bookstore I worked at when The Ring Two was released.

I have a freaking Samara T-shirt.

Rings follows a formula taken right from the 2002 Gore Verbinski film, with slight variations. The central conceit of the film remains: set Samara's soul free so that she will stop killing people.

This is where it gets fun for me, but can also be something of a letdown. There is no twist ending as long as you have been paying attention. Call it a spoiler on my part and I won't entirely disagree. The key is that knowing is satisfying in a way that other horror films don't even strive for.

Here's the deal: nobody wants to redeem Freddy Krueger. He's a villain and that is that. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky... same thing. Audiences cheer for them and are more invested in them than in the victims, but it is still different than it is with Samara.

We feel bad for her, just like the heroines of the American films do. We think, "Oh this precious girl. If only she knew someone loved her, she would stop being so cruel to the world. We're sorry that you were mistreated. Let us help you."

But pay attention. Pay attention to the worst person in each film (in this case Vincent D'Onofrio's Burke) when he says that you can't save Samara. The person who did the worst things to her but has been spared up to that point is generally the only one who really knows the truth.

The truth is that Samara is evil. It is a natural evil made worse by nurture. Fight it all you want, but she's going to kill and continue to kill until she kills everyone.

And yes, this nihilism is satisfying because it is inevitable. Logistically, a classic slasher can't kill everyone on the planet. For much of her early existence, neither could Samara. The limits of VHS technology constrained her.

She is no longer constrained by a tape. She's much more like the RING virus of the books, which evolves and spreads in any way it can.

But what makes this the most satisfying to me is that within the parameters of this story, there will always be someone who thinks they can save Samara and free her soul. "There have been twelve before you," Burke tells Julia, the would-be savior of Rings. No, we don't need to see the same story twelve times (although horror franchises would tell us otherwise), but knowing that this pattern has occurred before and will continue on and on is terrifying.

Of course, there is a catch. Rings is unfortunately not a good movie. The dialogue is atrocious and the acting is watered down to the point where this could nearly pass as a PG flick instead of the PG-13 it is. It lacks the atmosphere needed for a successful PG-13 horror show. Its characters also lack the heart that makes one want to cheer for them.

What this means is that I can't fully recommend you spend $11 (or whatever a ticket costs you these days) just for a satisfying concept. What I can say is that if you keep some of this in mind, you will at least not feel like you wasted your time.

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