Film Review: ‘Rings’

Rings 2
Courtesy of YouTube/Paramount

Nearly 20 years after 'Ringu,' the latest American horror sequel of hex, flies, and videotape is as unscary as it is out of date.

Rings,” the latest franchise horror sequel that has no organic reason to exist, opens on an airplane, where a dude asks the young woman seated next to him, “Did you ever hear about the videotape that kills you after you watch it?” By now, the most appropriate response to that question would be, “What’s a videotape?” Instead, she listens politely as he jabbers on about the tape and the phone call you get after you watch it, the one that says you have only seven days to live. He then explains that he’s five minutes away from powering through those seven days. Uh-oh! Moments later, his nose is bleeding, insects are buzzing, the black sludge is oozing from the bottom of the bathroom door, and — oh, yes! — the plane is crashing. (All that’s missing is a gremlin on the wing of the plane.) This is how you die in “Rings”: Decisively, accompanied by a great many omens, most of which probably don’t mean very much. But about that videotape…

“Ringu,” the celebrated Japanese horror movie that started it all, was released in 1998 (“The Ring,” the not-bad American remake, came out four years later), and back then, VHS tapes — not to mention teenybopper-voiced phone calls of death placed on landlines — didn’t come off as a form of technology ancient enough to have been used in Druidic rituals. At the time, DVDs were coming into vogue, but this wasn’t just a matter of which format people were going to use to watch stuff at home. The whole category of J-horror played off the fusion of ancient spirits and digital technology — the ghost in the machine — and “Ringu” used its sinister flash-cut black-and-white videotape, with its twitchy pulsating images that looked like “Un Chien Andalou” turned into a snuff film, as a metaphor for the insidious menace of technology itself. It was a dawn-of-the-Internet-age horror film, and it put forth the message that the future wouldn’t bury the past — it would re-code it.

All of that seems so long ago and far away. The tech revolution is no longer The Scary Exciting Future. It’s simply the air we breathe. And so “Rings,” the third entry in the American “Ring” franchise (after “The Ring” and “The Ring Two”), is just a blah generic ghost story that’s half-heartedly built around the premise of a videotape that kills. It’s now the file-share that kills. I don’t know why that’s less threatening, but it is, kind of like seeing your favorite album cover reduced to a digital postage stamp.

Johnny Galecki, from “The Big Bang Theory” and “Roseanne,” is cast against type as Gabriel, a surly college professor who’s gotten hold of the classic old-school “Ring” videotape — woman combing her hair, seaside rocks, lone housefly, slithery centipede, woodland meadow, girl with face draped in body-length black tresses dragging herself out of a stone well — and is in the midst of an experiment that involves showing it to a bunch of college kids, all to provide scientific evidence for the existence of the soul, or the gateway to the other side, or something. The way the rules now work, if your seven days are up but you make a copy of the tape and show it to somebody else, you’ll survive and they will die (unless they do the same thing, etc.), making this the Ponzi scheme of living-dead videos.

Julia (Matilda Lutz), after a disturbing Skype conversation with her boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe), trails him to college, where she discovers that he’s one of Gabriel’s guinea pigs. For a while, “Rings” seems to be about the undergraduate seminar from hell — and since Gabriel actually uses a VCR, the videotape metaphor lives on, sort of (for about 45 minutes). But then it all gets turned into laptop files, and it also becomes a matter of the video-within-the-video. In this one, there’s a new set of flickering images — church flood, burning corpse, cicadas in the shape of a crucifix, a snake eating its tail — to keep you awake nights going “Now WTF does that mean?” But the new images aren’t all that different from the old images. As a horror film, “Rings” goes to the well once too often.

The images turn out to be clues to a mysterious disappearance, which leads Julia and Holt to Sacrament Valley, the kind of quaint small town that has a dark secret that can only register as the most perilous of clichés. The lady who runs the rooming house is creepy, the photograph on the wall of the girl with the violin is creepy, and Vincent D’Donofrio is even creepier as a jaunty blind local who simply can’t be up to anything wholesome. I’ll reveal no more, except to say that “Rings” takes the “Ring” formula and merges it with the premise of “Room,” with its opportunistic fusion of depravity and PC victimization. The movie, which will be lucky to eke out a weekend’s worth of business, isn’t scary, it isn’t awesome, and it doesn’t nudge you to think of technology in a new way. But it does make you wish that you could rewind those two hours, or maybe just erase them.

Film Review: 'Rings'

Reviewed at AMC Empire, New York, February 2, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Parkes/MacDonald, BenderSpink, Marci/Epstein, Vertigo Entertainment, Waddieish Claretrap production. Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes. Executive producers: Christopher Bender, Neal Edelstein, Ehren Kruger, Roy Lee, Mike Macari, Amy Sayres, J.C. Spink.

Crew

Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay: David Loucka. Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman. Camera (color, widescreen): Sharone Meir. Editors: Steve Mirkovich, Jeremiah O’Driscoll.

With

Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 11

Leave a Reply

11 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. There says:

    I like how years later we get a new ring film that tosses out who Samara’s dad really is unless that priest was just a sick obsessed stalker wanting to believe he’s Samara’s father unless there’s story on Evelyn’s part on why things turned out the way they did. I wish it was more focused on that or samaras origins cause its all ‘here’s a new horror film where you still don’t know a thing or much about Samara at all except she want to kill and make people suffer’ I mean come on Hollywood.

  2. stigma says:

    Just watched it. Eh.. First it starts pretty much as the short film “Rings” from the Ring 2 dvd. Then it goes into Ring 1 territory, with unneccesary backstories. NEVER overexplain the monster. Ever! Then the ending, which is very reminiscent of the last part of part 2, comes out of the blue.. And as a last minute desicion the video tape was uploaded to youtube, or whatever. (courtesy of Sadako vs Kayako)

    What they should have done was just turning “Rings” (2005) into a full-blown movie and have someone upload the video to youtube way earlier. And then see the effect of a starting apocalypse! That would actually have made for a half decent movie. But no, they couldn’t even make a single coherent storyline. There were basically 3 storylines.. SMH

  3. ichabod1799 says:

    Even as a die hard ring fan this movie was still terrible. The plane scene was unnecessary, it also over powered the build up to the climax or lack of. I like that it started to go in the direction of spiral, but that was it. The characters were dull as fuck. There was no cinematography. It would have been so much better without the middle act. Maybe just centre around the professor and the students instead. A 2 hour remake of the 15min short film by the same name would been much better

  4. Steve says:

    When I first heard about this movie, I thought, “Without Naomi, this will suck.” Looks like I was right!

  5. Practical Voice in the Hollywood Wilderness says:

    The American version was much superior to “Ringu” in every way. Not that a critic has ever admitted that.

  6. Nicole says:

    This review made me laugh really hard.

  7. Bill B. says:

    Jeez. Even the first one was only so-so, but the endless parade of unoriginal ideas marches on.

  8. Ha! says:

    Ha! – What is a videotape? :)

More Film News from Variety

Loading