‘The Ring’ and Its Vicious Cycle of Killer Women [Fatal Femmes]

One of the horror genre’s most terrifying images is a little girl in a white dress, her face covered by long, wet hair, climbing out of an old well and crawling toward the camera. She seems to see you, but that can’t be real, can it? Surely it’s just a trick of the light or a clever angle of the camera. As she reaches the screen, you hold your breath, nervously laughing and reminding yourself it’s only a movie. But she doesn’t stop at the membrane separating film from reality. Leaning forward, her head pierces the screen while her hands reach out of the TV and onto your living room floor. Dripping water from her cold, wet grave she crawls toward you parting her hair to reveal the hideous face that will seal your fate. 

You are Noah (Martin Henderson), the final victim in Gore Verbinski’s terrifying The Ring. Adapted for American audiences from Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, Verbinski’s film follows single mother Rachel (Naomi Watts) who would do anything to protect her son from a hellish curse. Anyone who watches a sinister VHS tape containing a nightmare caught on film will have seven days to live before the little girl from the well turns her deadly eyes their way. This horrifying child is Samara (Daveigh Chase), a troubled orphan capable of projecting unimaginable nightmares into the minds of her victims. Though Samara may be a classic vengeful spirit, her story is anything but simple. As her cursed tape cycles through Rachel’s life, Verbinski’s The Ring becomes a study of sacrifice and the harrowing story of two doomed mothers.

Samara’s Weapon

We first meet Samara through her method of murder. On a dark and stormy night, a high school student named Katie (Amber Tamblyn) watches TV with a friend who tells her about a haunted VHS tape. Supposedly anyone who watches the short film will receive a telephone call immediately after warning that they now have only seven days left to live. Katie pales as she realizes that she watched the tape at a mountain retreat exactly one week ago. Dismissing the story as an unsettling joke, Katie soon falls victim to a killer force lurking behind the static of her TV set. The teen’s gruesome death sparks curiosity in her aunt Rachel who promises her devastated sister that she will find out what really happened to her horribly mutilated daughter. 

Following Katie’s footsteps to an isolated cabin on Shelter Mountain, Rachel locates the tape and quickly pops it into a VCR. What follows is a nightmare brought to life. Gritty footage of an empty wooden chair, a woman brushing her hair in the mirror, and a man watching from a high window are followed by more sinister images. A long piece of twine is pulled out of someone’s throat, a ladder reaches a solid wall, squirming maggots transform into writhing bodies, and a nail pierces the tip of a human finger. The unnerving movie ends with an old well on the edge of a gloomy forest. 

Moments after the tape runs out, a phone rings in the cabin. A voice whispers, “Seven days” as Rachel realizes what she’s done. Her fate has been sealed by pressing play and nothing short of a miracle can save her from an unthinkable demise. When Rachel’s young son Aiden (David Dorfman) accidentally watches the tape, Rachel becomes determined to save her son at all costs. She pulls in Aiden’s estranged father Noah, a videographer and photography expert, to help her find a way to lift the awful curse before it takes the life of their son. 

We never learn exactly how Samara’s tape is able to cause viewers to die, but it seems that pushing play causes their faces to appear distorted in pictures while animals buck and revolt in their presence. Rachel pulls a long cord attached to a medical sensor out of her throat and Aiden remembers Katie sharing fears about time running out just before her horrendous death. Watching the tape seems to summon Samara and on the seventh day, she crawls out of the well to confront her next victim. Just a glimpse of her hideous face is enough to twist and contort the faces of others, sucking out their life force as she kills them with overwhelming fear.

Samara’s Tragic Story In The Ring

As Rachel investigates, we learn more about this haunting little girl. It seems she was once adopted by a childless couple trying to conceive. After a series of miscarriages, Anna (Shannon Cochran) and Richard Morgan (Brian Cox) returned from a mysterious vacation to their home on Moesko Island with a little girl named Samara in tow. Unfortunately, this adoption did not result in the happy ending Anna had hoped for. Whenever Samara was around, Anna and Richard saw the most awful images. The daughter they’d spent years praying for tormented them with nightmarish visions projected from her own troubled mind. 

After seeking medical advice, the devastated couple locked Samara away in a high room at the top of their isolated barn, but this seemed only to antagonize the mysterious little girl. Disturbed by constant neighing, Samara caused all of the Morgan’s horses to drown themselves in the sea prompting Anna and Richard to take drastic action. While visiting Shelter Mountain, Samara’s adopted mother suffocated her with a bag and pushed the child she’d always hoped for into a well in the middle of the forest. After seven long days, Samara finally succumbed to the elements, the length of time she now uses to torment her victims. 

An intrepid reporter, Rachel follows Samara’s trail all the way to the hidden well where her body still floats. She pulls the little girl’s corpse from the murky water, hoping to end the curse by giving Samara a proper burial. She returns home excited to tell Aiden the good news. Unfortunately, her relief quickly evaporates in one of the film’s most chilling moments. Aiden whispers in horror, “You weren’t supposed to help her,” as his nose begins to bleed. Far from a misunderstood child murdered by cruel parents, Samara seems to be something more. Footage of her therapy sessions now takes on a sinister tone as we learn that, “she never sleeps” and enjoyed burning horrific visions into the minds of those around her. As her evil influence began to spread to the larger community, the Morgans killed their little girl to save the world from her dreadful power.

So What Is Samara’s Motive?

Subsequent franchise installments give Samara a more sympathetic backstory, but Verbinski keeps his film lean and mean. Based on Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring, Hideo Nakata’s version of the character, Sadako (Rie Ino’o), is a young woman with psychic powers pushed into the well after a traumatic childhood and a sexual assault. Though responsible for deaths, she is much more sympathetic, whereas Samara seems to have been born bad. The raven-haired little girl her adoptive mother longed for somehow poisons the air around her, spreading misery and misfortune wherever she goes.

Samara’s motive for creating the tape is much more simple. It’s difficult to fathom the unrelenting nightmare of being trapped alive at the bottom of a well in the pitch-black darkness. Trying in vain to crawl back up to dry ground, she broke off several fingernails, leaving bloody scratches on the sides of the stone-lined well. After seven long days, she finally passed away, freezing and alone. It’s understandable that her rage at this horrific betrayal would transcend time and space, leaving an indelible stamp on anyone who wanders into its orbit. 

Were Samara an innocent child murdered by monstrous parents, her wrath would be justified. However, given her talent for causing intellectual pain, the tape’s curse feels like an evolution of her powers. She no longer has to be near someone to transmit her nightmarish visions. The tape she made will endure well past her death, burning its upsetting images into the minds of anyone unlucky enough to watch. Samara spares those who make a copy, spinning her rage as far as possible in a never-ending cycle of horror. 

Though she is the film’s overt villain, Samara is not the story’s only female killer. Both Anna and Rachel cause death and destruction when they encounter Samara’s terrifying curse. Before finding the well, Rachel tries to understand why the Morgans would make such an unthinkable choice. Even after learning of Samara’s chilling talents, she believes the little girl is simply a troubled child in need of compassion. As she continues to investigate, we piece the story together based on video recordings of a psychiatric evaluation, begrudging conversations with Richard, notes from Anna’s own doctor, and psychic messages passed from Samara to Aiden. Given this convoluted puzzle and several unreliable narrators, it’s impossible to know exactly what happened on the Morgan farm. We do know that Anna was so horrified by what she’d done that she threw herself off the same cliff that took the lives of her cherished horses. 

It’s difficult to justify the murder of a child, especially one so gruesome and painful. However, it’s likely Anna believed she was trying to restore the life she once shared with Richard. Perhaps she killed her daughter in an attempt to save her husband from these horrifying visions and the local community from misfortune and ruin. Or maybe after years of relentless images burned in her brain by the devious little girl living in her home, Anna simply lost her grip on reality. Perhaps the disturbing images caused severe mental illness and murder/suicide was the only solution she could see. Moments before his own suicide, Richard insists that his wife wasn’t supposed to have children. This implies Samara’s frightening existence was punishment for the couple using nefarious means to procure a child.

The Countless Victims In The Ring

Once we learn about Samara’s terrible fate, the film’s focus shifts back to Rachel’s quest to save her own child. With time running out, she turns to Noah for help, only to realize that Samara has beaten her to his apartment. Rushing back to Aiden, Rachel gives in to frustration. She knows she has outlasted the seven-day curse, but she doesn’t know why. It’s not until she spies the VHS copy she made lying under the couch that she realizes what she’s done. Rachel quickly guides Aiden’s hand in making a copy of his own, shielding him from Samara’s wrath and making him a part of her ever-growing ring. 

Unfortunately, this only ensures that another person will watch the tape. Samara’s rage will continue to spin, her sinister visions burned into the minds of more innocent victims. Rachel has saved her son by essentially dooming someone else’s child. Though ethically dubious, it’s difficult to fault Rachel for making this choice. Having witnessed the aftermath of Katie’s death, she knows exactly how much pain she would be causing future parents, but she’s also had a ringside seat for the acute pain of mourning a child.

With Samara’s body no longer haunting the well, it’s unlikely she would be able to make another tape. Rachel could put an end to the curse by destroying the original and all known copies. Unfortunately, this would mean sacrificing her own son to save the children of others. Part of Samara’s evil includes making Rachel and Aiden complicit in spreading her wrath throughout the world. 

Nakata’s original film adds a sinister twist to this horrific choice. In order to lift the curse, Rachel’s counterpart Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) must intentionally show the tape to another person. After guiding her son to make a copy, she sets off to the home of her ailing father, hoping to convince him to watch the tape in order to save his grandson. Verbinski allows Rachel to keep her own hands relatively clean, only hinting at Samara’s future victims. However, she has tripled this monstrous power and will likely spend the rest of her life hoping the little girl’s rage will not cycle back around to her.

Samara The Ring

The Legacy of The Girl In The Well

Though certainly terrifying, the Ring proves to be much more than the story of a vengeful spirit. By following the impossible choices of two mothers, Verbinski’s film becomes a study of sacrifice made in the name of both fear and love. After trying for years to bear a child, Anna finally gets the daughter of her dreams only to find that the burden of mothering a challenging child is more than she can bear.

Whether Samara is evil or merely misunderstood, Anna finds herself unable to raise the girl and takes her own life in the wake of this grief. Rachel gambles with her own survival when she watches Samara’s tape but refuses to risk the life of her son. In order to save him she perpetuates a cycle of death and sorrow that will undoubtedly spread to many more mothers and sons. With no one able to stop her, Samara’s evil will prevail, spinning in ever-widening rings for the foreseeable future. 



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