We’ve all got something coming up we’d rather not do. Some complicated project at work, a driver’s test, a dentist appointment. If you’re a creative writer then nothing makes you shit bricks more than an upcoming deadline. Death by appointment is a concept both alien in a literal sense but familiar in a figurative sense. That is what Samara is to me.
Given the fact that I’m known the world over, or at least to anyone who has been listening to the podcast over the last few years as a massive Ring fan I felt it necessary to return to my written roots of splatterpictures.net. I’ve just seen the latest installment of the Ring franchise out of the West and even though they’ve been released with some regularity over in Japan with the latest being the highly enjoyable monster-mash of Kayako vs Sadako, it’s been twelve years since the last American installment.
The latest entry in the franchise saw its fair share of production woes including a frustrating series of release date changes that saw this film booted from the prestigious horror release month of October to the horror movie dump months of January and February. Not good signs for anyone who pays attention to film. It usually means a studio isn’t confident with the end result. To some horror fans they could see the writing on the wall.
Although I am a Ring fan I am not an undiscerning one. I was vocal about my dissatisfaction with The Ring II, finding it a significant step down from its predecessor. Over in Japan I was even more critical of Sadako 3D, finding it a total mess of a movie. I bring this up because despite what a good majority of reviewers are saying I find this not only a solid entry in the franchise but an excellent movie in the overall sense. Call me a contrarian if you must but hear me out.
The film starts off with the airplane sequence that was widely available as part of the films marketing campaign. It serves to establish Samara as an absolute force of nature that can and will crash a plane to get her intended victim. Also, the panicked victim encounters a fellow passenger who also saw the tape but made a copy and is thus safe. Except for the fact that the plane is going down. Bad luck, lady. Beyond the power of Samara what this shows us is that over a decade after the events of the first film, the cursed videotape is far more widespread than a few local teenagers gossiping about it in the halls.
I loved how this film needles our vintage loving culture. Some people might roll their eyes at the idea of a cursed VHS tape in 2017 but I know just as many people who claim the only true way to listen to music is vinyl and you can only watch Cannibal Holocaust off a bootlegged VHS tape on a barely working SD television for it to even count. Although, this is merely a jumping off point. It takes no time at all for the cursed Videotape to finally take the leap to digital.
Our main protagonists, Julia and Holt, played by Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe, don’t do a hell of a lot for me in terms of characters. They are young, hot and in love. End of story. I’m fine with this because by the third installment of a horror franchise I am here to see Samara Morgan, not get to know a couple of love sick Abercrombie & Fitch models but, they are both serviceable in their roles. Although, that first scene needed a redraft.
While I’m on the negative I will say that the script shows a certain lack of trust in the audience. Characters often verbalize things to make sure the audience is keeping up with plot points. It can result in some clunky-ass dialogue but this is a minor complaint. I will say that because of all this expository dialogue this film actually stands alone. You don’t need to see the previous installments to know everything that’s going on.
The real interest lies within Johnny Galecki’s character of Gabriel. Gabriel is a college professor who acquired the cursed tape that was lodged within a VCR he buys at a flea market. The Ring II for all its flaws had an amazing bonus feature on the DVD that was a short movie depicting a group of teenagers who dared each other to watch the tape. They would then find others to copy the tape and free them from the curse. This concept merely flirted with on the second film in a bonus feature many likely didn’t see, is in full effect on this film. Years after he watched the tape we find Gabriel is alive and well and running a secret study about the tape where he convinces his students to watch it and then he finds “tails” for currently cursed students to pass their death sentences on to one another in an endless cycle. One of which is Julia’s boyfriend Holt. This is about the part of the film that I became incredibly engrossed. You think you can predict where it’s going and frankly it would have been enough for me that they pushed the franchise forward in this direction but then they give you even more.
After one of the students fails to find a tail, dying in a way befitting such an unfortunate event, everyone drops out and Holt is left dangling in the wind. With a few hours left until his week is up Julia watches the video. However, something is very different this time. When Julia tries to make her copy it fails and we find out that the reason it does is because the file size has changed. A little investigation shows that within the cursed tape and seemingly for Julia’s eyes only there is a secret message. Additional information that starts Julia on a vision quest to go back to where it all started.
By this time I was immersed. Not only immersed but I was under the water and then the lid of the well was sealed shut. I was in. In a franchise that the public audience knows inside and out they had the balls to add more to the story. I’ve heard some complaints that this is both unnecessary and convoluted. On the contrary. I feel that this is not only critical to pushing a franchise forward but it wasn’t convoluted at all. I’m not even that smart of a person and I could follow everything perfectly.
Julia and Holt try to piece together what her vision might mean and they encounter a blind priest named Burke played by the amazing Vincent D’Onofrio. I was so thrilled to see him in this film. He does what he does best. Play a giant and intimidating guy that just might snap at any minute.
They have more than enough tense sequences to get the blood pumping, a fascinating new mystery to uncover and they show immense restraint with the use of Samara. Yes she’s in the film often enough but there are other threats in this film to consider. I think anyone coming in to this film wanting to see Samara be a bad-ass will be very pleased. Modern special effects have been very very kind to the gruesome ghost girl. There is a sequence that involves cicadas that’s instant classic to me.
The last half of this movie is just amazing. Even though Julia and Holt don’t have the benefit of being intrepid reporters like Naomi Watts character of the first film, they still manage to have several really cool moments of investigating what we find out, to be the true origin of Samara Morgan. I won’t give it away in this review but I will tell you it’s dark as fuck. I loved it. The final twist is something so delicious that I am on my hands and knees begging for a sequel. It cements the fact that Samara will play on your sympathy but, make no mistake. She is and always will be a being of pure malevolence. And she will never stop.
I submit to you dear readers that not only is this a worthy addition to the Ring legacy but that it’s also the kind of Ring movie I’ve wanted to see for over a decade. This film takes familiar themes and expands upon them, shoots them in a new way and then bravely adds to it. They did it. It’s good and even if every other review pisses all over it I will buy this when it comes out on blu-ray and then, like it was a cursed tape, show it to as many people as I possibly can in hopes that they will do the same. Almost as if my very life depended on it.