March 26, 2019

Momo Is as Real as We’ve Made Her

“Released in 2002, “The Ring” furnished us with a fresh and memorably horrifying rendition of the folkloric vengeful ghost. In that film, Samara, a demonic orphan drowned in a well by her tormented adoptive mother, rose from the dead, via VHS tape, to terrorize the living. The particulars of the story are less important than the version that has lodged itself in our imaginations: the tape itself, a choppy cut of generically alarming images; the ringing phone, and the voice on the other end of the line whispering seven days; the inhuman form crawling out of the television; the waterlogged face peeking out from behind the wall of stringy black hair. “The Ring” was both horrifying and meaningfully divergent from its source material, a Japanese book and film series. The third installment of the American series, “Rings” (2017), was a minor commercial success and a massive critical flop. For now, the franchise appears to be on pause.

At least officially. Starting last year, and flaring this February, Americans of “Ring”-watching age became transfixed by another string-haired demon girl menacing the youth: Momo. Like Samara, Momo is said to possess young people through screens. In one rendition of her story, she entrances children with her shocking face and then gives them increasingly morbid instructions, culminating in suicide. Later versions of the story warn that she will appear in the middle of children’s videos to encourage self-harm. There are minor adaptations that describe Momo making first contact, or casting her first hex, through private messages in various apps or through in-game voice chat.

In recent months, Momo has graced countless local news segments, received concerned national coverage as the subjects of viral “suicide games,” and even found her way into the consciousness of Kim Kardashian West, who warned followers to “monitor what your kids are watching!””

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