×

Film Review: ‘Rings’

Nearly 20 years after 'Ringu,' the latest American horror sequel of hex, flies, and videotape is as unscary as it is out of date.

With:
Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig.
Release Date:
Feb 3, 2017

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498381/

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.

More Film

  • Woolsey Fire Malibu

    Many Malibu Areas Still Off-Limits for Filming After Fire

    The California Film Commission has maintained its ban on filming in several Malibu areas hit by the massive Woolsey fire in Southern California last month. The commission announced Tuesday that due to continued clean-up and repair work along Pacific Coast Highway, permits for filming on the highway are not being issued at this time. PCH [...]

  • Against the Clock

    Film News Roundup: Andy Garcia's Spy Thriller 'Against the Clock' Bought by Gravitas

    In today’s film news roundup, Andy Garcia’s spy thriller is sold, “Battlestar Galactica” gets a screenwriter, and Brooklyn Decker gets an award. ACQUISITION More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to spy thriller “Against the Clock,” starring Andy Garcia, Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Justin [...]

  • 'Pacific Rim Uprising' film premiere

    John Boyega in Talks to Star in Legal Drama 'A Naked Singularity'

    “Star Wars” actor John Boyega is in talks to star in the legal drama “A Naked Singularity” with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions on board to produce. The movie is based on Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, which centers on a successful New York public defender whose life begins to unravel after he loses [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead Obit

    Remembering Penny Marshall, Who Forged Her Own Path and Paved the Way for Others

    She was a natural comedian — fearless and funny, willing to trade on her natural Bronx brogue to craft a sassy and street-wise character that was tailor-made for sitcoms. But Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at the age of 75, proved throughout her long career that she had so much more in the way [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Outpacing 'Wonder Woman' in Fandango Pre-Sales

    Pre-sales of “Aquaman,” which opens on Thursday night, are outpacing “Wonder Woman” at the same point in the advance ticket sales cycle on online ticketer Fandango. “Wonder Woman” opened with $103 million domestically during the June 2 to June 4, 2017, weekend on its way to a $412 million North American total for Warner Bros. “Aquaman,” [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Box Office: 'Aquaman,' 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Box Office: 'Aquaman' Battles 'Mary Poppins Returns' in Crowded Holiday Weekend

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the most competitive time at the multiplexes. This weekend sees two very different heroes vying for the box office crown with “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns” both eyeing sizable debuts. “Mary Poppins Returns” is getting a head start by opening on Wednesday, though estimates show “Aquaman” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content