Rings (2017)

Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez

If you were a teenager in the early 2000’s, you remember the first time you saw The Ring. Everyone I know has some kind of story about the movie, white-knuckled for the next seven days out of fear that the impending doom foretold in the film might find them as well. It spawned a whole generation of prank “seven days” phone calls.

For some, it would launch an interest in J-horror and Japanese culture on par with anime nerds. Personally, it’s the film that got me into horror; at a time when I thought that horror films were just those weird scary things my mom didn’t let me watch, The Ring opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Now of course, you shouldn’t be surprised that a sequel twelve years after the last installment is not good. Out of reverence for the original, I held out a faint sliver of hope that this film might just buck the trend. But no, Rings is all of the shit you expect it to be. It’s an uninspired, cheap ripoff of the original that beat for beat tries to copy The Ring without any of the soul or charm, which is sad because there’s a good movie nestled here in the first twenty minutes.

At the start of the film, the curse is brought back into society by a college professor (Galecki) who stumbles upon the cursed VHS at a flea market. Rather than cowering in fear over the spectral images, he becomes fascinated with the scientific implications of it. If this cursed tape exists, surely it’s evidence of the physical soul? To research further, he enlists the help of his students, who relay their experiences to him before being relieved by a “tail,” kicking the curse-can down the road another seven days. If you ever saw the short film Rings (2005), this will all sound familiar.

Now that right there is a movie I want to see. For some reason, this premise is completely abandoned in the first act. It only serves to set the stage, offer up our second death, and be forgotten about. There’s a great idea here, room to expand on the moral implications and watch as the experiment spirals out of control, but nope. Instead we get yet another origin story. Because, fuck me, we didn’t get that already with The Ring 2, right?

By the time the film moves into the second act origin story, it had lost me. Protagonist Julia (Lutz) is some kind of chosen one, whose special version of the video gives her visions that no one else has. Why does she have these visions? What makes her special? Well, you’re going to have to guess because Rings sure as hell never explains it.

Another thing that Rings chucks out the window along with the interesting premise and sensical plot is the whole “seven days” thing. You know, the thing that makes a Ring movie a Ring movie. Without that structure, Rings is just another ghost story. The timeline is what made the original so great. What was essentially a mystery thriller, The Ring always felt tense due to the impending deadline. Samara was a relentless force. No matter how close you got to the truth or how far you ran, she was still coming for you. Now, Samara just pops up whenever the plot needs it.

There’s so much wrong with this film, but it would be hard to go into that without getting into spoilers. So I’m going to shift gears into the few things this movie did right. First and foremost, this is an acceptable PG-13 horror film. It is nowhere near as good as the original, but if you’re 15 and looking for a date movie, this is fine. There are some actually decent scares, and the visual design replicates the dark, wet palette of the original. There was a particularly good shot at the beginning that gave me hope the film might not suck. The flashback/vision sequences are nice, if not all ruined by cheap jump scares.

Vincent D’Onofrio is also fantastic, showing up for a while to basically fill the role Brian Cox did in The Ring. His performance is subtle, menacing, and a league ahead of the lead actors. Matilda Lutz is distractingly bad. Her accent is prevalent throughout, and she delivers her lines as though the script were nailed to the forehead of whomever she’s talking to. Co-star Alex Roe is equally stiff, but his entire character is just “hot college dude.” With writing like this, it’s hard to tell if he just had nothing to work with.

Rings is the worst kind of sequel, hollowly mimicking the source material without any of the integrity that made the original work. Though it technically exists in the same universe as the first two films (they are never mentioned, and the plot runs roughshod over what was established in The Ring 2), this feels like a reboot. There’s no reason this film was made other than to try to serialize the franchise. This is a transparent attempt to try to bring Samara back so they can make even more sequels.

I have no idea why they thought retooling this franchise into vapid teen-bait was a good idea. If you really loved The Ring and want to see more Samara, just rewatch The Ring. It holds up incredibly well and is still miles more frightening than Rings. If you never saw the original, you have no reason to flock to the theater to see Rings. If you need to watch a PG-13 ghost movie because your parents won’t take you to R-rated films, then I guess Rings is a step above The Bye Bye Man.

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Ted Hentschke

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