Ninety minutes of naval gazing. That’s what it feels like watching Rings, a sad attempt at bringing back the mysterious Samara and her cursed videotape. At the time of The Ring‘s release in 2002, DVDs were relatively new and VHS was still a thing. Fifteen years later, VHS is dead, DVD leaped forward to Blu-ray, and digital streaming is changing how we view media.
Wanting to impress a new generation we get a revival of the stagnate horror franchise with an added “s” at the end of the title. Those expecting an Aliens-like change in momentum, well you better keep looking. The VHS horror is back, with its cryptic, flickering images of a swarm of cicadas, a dead bird and a woman walking off a cliff just to name a few. Starting anew, director F. Javier Gutierrez and the team of writers (three who are credited, including Akiva Goldsman of Batman & Robin infamy) would rather lag behind than move forward in terms of scares and surprises.
The story is so mishandled that it has two prologues. The first concerns two passengers on an airliner that have seen the cursed videotape and the resulting action of having the rest of those onboard suffer the same damned fate. We then skip ahead a few years and Gabriel (The Big Bang Theory‘s Johnny Galecki) picks up a vintage VCR at a swap meet right after a lady reveals that the woman who donated the player said it belonged to her son who died in a plane crash. Alas, with some tinkering Gabariel gets the VCR to work and inside is a videocassette with the words “Watch Me” scribbled on the label. The cycle starts again.
The timeline inches, six weeks later. We meet Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), sweethearts that can’t stop making googly eyes at each other, and she doesn’t want to see him leave for college. They promise nightly Skype sessions but then the chats stop when Holt vanishes. Julia goes into Nancy Drew mode venturing to the campus and following clues to try and find him, including Holt’s cell phone that happens to have 1% battery life – just enough juice to see his recent history. How convenient.
Meeting Holt’s biology professor, Gabriel, and Holt’s classmate, Skye (Aimee Teegarden), Julia is introduced to an underground society where willing participants watch Samara’s video and then continue the cycle by making a copy and having another (called a “tail”) watch and free them of the seven day countdown to death. Reunited, Julia willing watches the video and becomes Holt’s tail to protect him. Blurring the lines of fiction and reality Julia sees visions and clues about Samara’s mysterious past. Leaving the campus for a remote township she meets Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio), the blind groundskeeper to the cemetery where Samara may be entombed.
The idea of digitizing the video to extrapolate and process its images and meaning, and keep the curse on the move like a game of tag is an interesting approach. Sadly, that idea falls once Julia becomes the pawn to save Holt. Seven days to find a way to stop Samara and give this series a sense of closure, twelve years after The Ring Two failed to accomplish. But Rings is not about closure; it’s a jumping off point for a new cycle of video artifice shenanigans.
Rings is a bad film. This rehash offers nothing new with reviving Samara and her cryptic video, which will see the watcher dead after seven days. Flavorless and unexciting, and dreadful performances. Now no one expects award-winning acting when watching horror, but the players look bored, sleepwalking from scene to scene. D’Onofrio, who could have been a highlight, is integral but uninspired. The viewer may be more inclined to yawn than scream watching the story go through the motions as our bland heroine tries to unravel the mystery. Even when we reach the conclusion that isn’t a conclusion at all we can’t help but feel cheated. Give us a real ending, not motivation for a sequel.
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Writers: Jacob Estes, David Loucka, and Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Aimee Teegarden, Vincent D’Onofrio