The Tragic Relevancy of The Ring

Editor’s note: All throughout October, the vibes get spookier and the nights get longer. It’s the perfect time of year to watch horror movies, whether you’re a year-round horror fan or you just like to watch horror flicks to get into the Halloween spirit. This year at Horror Obsessive, for our 31 Horror Classics Revisited series, we’re giving you one recommendation for a classic horror film each day throughout the month of October. What do you think—is this film a horror classic? What other horror films do you consider to be classics, and what films do you make sure you watch each October? Let us know in the comments below!

RACHEL: Four kids are dead, Noah.

NOAH: Not from watching a videotape.

20 years ago, The Ring was released in theaters. I saw it with my brother in a sneak preview a few days before and, having not seen the original Japanese film Ringu beforehand, I was floored. To me, the film was excellent, and every year since, I’ve watched it. And every year, I’m startled as to just how relevant it’s stayed.

While the object of importance in the film was a VHS tape, something that has long since been out of popular usage thanks to formats like DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming, The Ring was about two ideas: child neglect and society’s attachment to television. It’s still about the former. As for the latter, the basic idea is still there, only it’s evolved from television to all kinds of media.

This is why Samara’s VHS tape can still be relevant to the majority of the media-consuming population. Yes, there are plenty who still watch VHS tapes, but for the most part, society has moved on. Finding a VHS tape out in the wild and then playing it on a VCR at home (or even a hotel) isn’t all that likely anymore. Still, the VHS tape is not—and was never—the important part of the film.

Had The Ring been made today, very little would need to be changed. Would an object even be necessary? What about clicking on a link? Is Samara finding a home on social media somewhere possible? After all, she doesn’t need the tape. That’s just the vessel. The important thing for her is having a screen.

Katie and Becca watch TV in the opening scene of The Ring.

For most of the 20th century, two screens dominated popular culture: the movie theater and the television. While both are still a part of society, new kinds of media have emerged. In 2002, the internet and cellular phones were still (relatively and comparatively) in their infancy. The iPhone wouldn’t even come out for another five years. Facebook was barely coming into its own.

In 2022, social media nearly equates to the internet itself. If someone has a phone, it’s probably a smartphone. And if it’s a smartphone, there is probably at least one social media app on it. In addition, it’s fair to assume that fewer people go to the movies or watch TV shows on a television set than they did 20 years ago, yet screens are still a part of people’s lives. The craziest part is this: Samara would thrive in today’s world.

Think about it. For Samara to do her damage 20 years ago, most of her victims needed to be near a television set. At the turn of the century, people watched a lot of TV. I mean, don’t get me wrong. People still do. The difference is that most people watched stuff on their television sets. Nowadays, people have computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.

I remember growing up and hearing about how television would rot my brain if I watched too much. Today, young people are being told that spending too much time on their phones is harmful. Was what I was told correct? Is what young people are being told correct?

Well, let’s say that Samara was real. In The Ring, she created a VHS tape, wherein she could latch onto victims who would then spread her around by making copies, sort of like a chain letter (something that has also fallen away and been replaced by social media trends). If one failed to do so, they were killed by Samara.

If she were alive today, Samara would be online, and she’d be on social media. Anyone who followed her would get a DM, instead of a phone call (because who calls anyone anymore?). They would be told “seven days,” and they would either die or have to send her profile to someone else and get them to follow her.

She’d have the most followers on the internet. She’d be a star. A killer, yes, but a star nonetheless. People would be frightened, and yet, they would follow her or risk being killed by her. She’d be hunted, but given that she has supernatural powers of some kind,  I doubt anyone could stop her.

Of course, we could choose not to follow her in the first place. We could elect to simply not be on social media or even have a smartphone. If we could take away our screens, what would Samara have?

Samara in a hospital gown in The Ring.

That’s the point, of course. In The Ring, four teenagers watch Samara’s VHS tape because they want something to watch. While the two central adults in the film, Rachel and Noah, watch for reasons concerning trying to find out what the hell is going on, their son Aidan seems to watch the tape for the same reasons the teenagers above did: to watch it.

And when do the teenagers and Aidan watch the tape? When no adult is there. Yes, society as a whole has an addiction to screens, but that would be manageable if kids weren’t left alone so often with those screens.

Look, I’m not a parent. I’m not here to preach. However, I do see that the themes found in a film from 20 years ago are still relevant today. Some parents are busy. It happens. Plenty of parents cannot afford to have someone watch their child when they’re not there. I understand. But, using Rachel and Noah as examples, too many parental figures don’t do such a basic part of their job: being there.

One sequence in the first half of the film has always resulted in two simultaneous responses from me. It’s the one where Aidan gets ready for school. His mom isn’t around, so he gets dressed, makes himself lunch, and literally leaves the apartment to walk to school alone. He’s barely 10 years old! Meanwhile, his mom is in her bedroom, and when he tells her goodbye, she doesn’t even respond.

When Aidan leaves the building, it’s raining out, but the little guy is prepared with an umbrella. He runs into a man, and they exchange looks before both continue with their business. That man turns out to be Aidan’s absent father. I find the sequence both funny and tragic. It’s funny to see Aidan act like a little adult, but at the same time, it’s tragic because he shouldn’t have to do that.

I’m going to say it: Rachel and Noah are not good parents. Aidan is put in danger because they are not responsible enough to look out for him. I mean, sure, he seems to live a pretty good life, but man, Aidan does not seem like a happy kid until he sees his mother and father holding hands near the film’s end.

If Rachel were a good mother, there’s a probable chance that Aidan never would’ve found the tape, let alone had time to watch it. Nowadays, Aidan would have a phone, and I sincerely doubt that Rachel would care enough to keep a close eye on what her son’s up to with his device. Aidan would follow Samara, just to see what’s up, and well, the ticking clock would begin.

Samara, too, is a victim of parental neglect. We see that she was put in a barn, away from the world. When Rachel and Noah investigate the barn near The Ring’s climax, they have this exchange:

RACHEL: [Her father] kept her here. Her mother was going crazy. Morgan blamed the child. So he kept her here. Alone.

NOAH: Not alone.

Noah is referring to the television set that Samara must have used quite a bit. I honestly believe that it was this kind of exposure to television that got her the idea to ultimately create the VHS tape.

The funny thing is that in this scene, Rachel and Noah are clearly judging the actions of Samara’s parents. And while we more than likely side with them, it’s hard not to think that the two of them aren’t looking inward. I mean, I’m not suggesting that their parenting of Aidan is the same as what Samara’s parents did to her (Samara’s mother tried to kill her), but the neglect is still the same. Noah seems to think that putting a child away with a television set in place of a parent is wrong. Does he understand that neglect is neglect, regardless of how it’s carried out?

Rachel watches the tape in The Ring.

Perhaps. The two of them grow as the film goes on. By the end, I buy that they want to be a family again, presumably for Aidan’s benefit as much as their own. When Aidan sees them holding hands, I smile, too. It’s a sweet moment.

Of course, the damage is done. Samara’s parents failed her. Aidan’s parents failed him. But Rachel gets lucky. She made a copy. Noah didn’t. One parent survives. Ignoring the ill-advised sequel, I’m left wondering if Rachel truly will become a better parent, or if she’ll drift too far the other way and won’t allow Aidan any room to grow.

I don’t know about any of that. What I do know is that 2002’s The Ring is fairly explicit in its two main ideas. Clearly, it’s about how dangerous addiction to one’s screen can be, as well as how parental neglect can seriously harm a child (or at the very least, put a child in harm’s way). That these ideas are still relevant 20 years later is a tragedy. I doubt we’ll learn. Screens are here to stay, most likely, and there will always be bad parents.

Did a VHS tape kill four teenagers and Noah? Of course not. Samara did. But she was able to do so because of the screens and because no one else was there.

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Written by Michael Suarez

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