The premise of The Ring has always seemed silly. “You ever hear about the videotape that kills people in seven days?” This is one of the first lines of Rings, this third English-language installment of the franchise, itself a remake of the J-Horror sensation Ringu.
On a plane, two people who watched the tape are killed by Samara, the pallid, greasy black-haired monster of the film, as she climbs out of a monitor in the cockpit. This essentially unrelated cold open is the shoddiest scene in the entire film; a strange way to enter a film that is otherwise not too shabby.
When a professor (Johnny Galecki) watches the film—two years after this opening scene—he immediately begins seeing things: a fly crawling out of his lit cigarette and flying through a window, rain falling up. Admittedly, these are hallucinatory images that are not followed through on later in the film, which is a confusion, but it is an illusory scene handled quite well by director F. Javier Gutierrez.
The weird thing is that, six weeks later, the professor is still alive teaching some bogus pseudo-intellectualism to a lecture hall of students. How could this be possible? Everyone knows: “Seven days.”
The answer is found on the hidden seventh floor of the campus building, only accessible through an elevator key—are we supposed to believe that the stairs do not go to seven? That’s a fire code violation if I’ve ever seen one.
Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), in search of her unresponsive boyfriend, travels to this hidden floor using a key she finds in her boyfriend’s dorm room. Here, on a giant wall, we see the recognizable Ring video. Students are running around doing research. Timers on the wall countdown how much time people have before finding a “tail.”
This is the mythology of Rings. People who watch the video can loophole their way out of the seven day rule by copying the video (which, of course, is now a digital virus) and showing it to someone else, called a tail. It is a fine addition to the Ring mythos, the predictable next step. And it would serve the film well…if it remained the focus of the film. Not to mention that it is a premise a bit too close to recent horror hit It Follows for comfort.
There is a general competence to Rings. Shots are composed with enough skill for balance, edited together with enough deliberateness. The narrative, too, adds this new mythos to the franchise; this “reborn” franchise. This is worth investing in, even if this particular film fails to really dive into it.
Beyond its competence, the film is little else. Character motivation is a big question mark from the onset, and this questioning doesn’t let up throughout the runtime. The scares are not laced with tension but are merely noises in the darkness. The acting from Galecki is good, but his character serves the sole purpose of moving the plot forward.
The virality of the “tape,” and its added plot-convenience consequences, are not as helpful as they contend to be. The narrative of the film derails into new territory after an act break, completely switching gears when it switches setting. Either of the two narrative halves could serve a Ring film—although this second half bears striking resemblances to Don’t Breathe—but together they complicate each other.
The acting from Lutz is perhaps the biggest detriment to the film. It seems as if she is quelling a European accent to satisfy her character (she is Italian-born, after all), which causes her delivery to be somewhat wooden in key instances.
There are some decent pieces of imagery between the grotesque-for-grotesque-sake (yet still quite tame for grotesque) video tapes and the false jump scares. There is one set piece in particular involving a grave that is quite interesting visually. Other late-movie set pieces also create tension, making them come across like masterpieces in comparison to the tension-devoid set pieces of the first half.
Rings, when taken as a whole, is a messy film coming from a director who shows passion enough. This is not like the lazy attempts at horror that often come up early in the calendar year. At the same time, it lacks a certain grasp of narrative, character, and tension. Without the franchise name behind it, it would be hard to see this film having the same 3,000 theater release that it is seeing now.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)