Film Review – Rings
Rings (2017) is a special kind of awful. It’s not scary, or thrilling, or suspenseful, or remotely interesting. It’s a complete drag of a movie.
Maybe the premise of this story wasn’t made for this generation. The Ring (2002) – or better yet, the original Japanese Ringu (1998) – caught people off guard with a set up that was fresh and innovative. A person watches a videotape of some morbid imagery, then their phone rings with a little girl that says “seven days.” Sure enough, seven days later that person dies a gruesome death, with us the audience being treated to a really cool sequence of a girl literally crawling out of a TV screen. It was perfect for the home video generation, raised on VHS, MTV, and Blockbuster.
But like those entities, time passes and things change. VHS gave way to DVD, then Blu Ray, and now streaming. Blockbuster went out of business, and MTV is nothing but reality shows and nostalgic memories. People can watch movies on their phone or laptop, which poses a big problem for this film. Part of the appeal of The Ring was through its “urban legend” mythology. People heard about this tape, and when they got their hands on it, curiosity doomed them. Now that we are in the digital age, the video has been transposed into a file, and passed around via email or flash drive. Somewhere along the line, the appeal got lost in translation. The video itself looked great with its grainy, scratched up imagery. The updated version is crystal clear, and thus not as unnerving. It was creepy watching the ghost crawl out of an old school TV set, it’s not quite the same seeing it come out of a 60” inch, HD flat screen.
The task of director F. Javier Gutierrez (along with screenwriters David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and Akiva Goldsman) was in trying to make us forget that Rings is nothing more than a cheap money grab by the studio. Unfortunately, the material is so lackluster that it fails to distract us from realizing that we just wasted our hard earned cash. The plot steers away from the Naomi Watts character from the first two entries, this time going in a younger direction in the form of Julia (Matilda Lutz). Julia is in love with Holt (Alex Roe), and goes through separation anxiety when he leaves town to go to college. When Holt stops answering Julia’s messages and calls, Julia takes it upon herself to visit Holt’s college and find out what’s happened to him.
Let’s forget Julia’s disturbing attachment issues for a moment. Once she steps on campus, she discovers a weird club of students all obsessed with the mysterious video and what happens after someone watches it. Headed by a boneheaded professor (Johnny Galecki), the “club” is in actuality a system to pass the curse of the video to other people, thus avoiding the deadly outcome – a twist on the same idea from It Follows (2014). When Julia discovers Holt is involved, she takes it upon herself to investigate the source of the video and hopefully free the evil spirits behind it.
And boy, does she investigate. I hope you’re not expecting a horror movie here, because this isn’t much of one. Instead, the majority of the time we spend following Julia and Holt tracking down clues and interviewing people about the tape. The only “scare scenes” are visions or fake outs. At the screening I attended, the audience was noticeably restless in their seats, seemingly desperate to be shaken out of their lethargy. In most horror movies there’s that one character – usually an older person – who’s designated to give exposition: to explain everything that’s going on and reveal some kind of secret truth. Well here we don’t get one, we get three. So we have to sit back and listen as these people give us information we don’t care about. We came into the theater expecting scares but what we get is a whole bunch of lecture.
Rings is an ugly looking movie. The cinematography has a murky, unappealing aesthetic. It basks in dirty greens or fuzzy yellows, and many of the scare scenes are under lit to where objects are barely visible. At this point, the gimmick has worn off. But it’s not like the genre is in any kind of tailspin. In the last few years, horror has experienced some really well made and even critically acclaimed entries. From Sinister (2012), to The Conjuring (2013), It Follows, The Babadook (2014), to last year’s The Witch (2015) – these are just a few excellent horror films that are miles ahead of Rings. Either the franchise needs a heavy makeover, or perhaps it’s better to leave it alone. The genre has such a wide variety of good stuff – we don’t have enough time to waste on something as empty as this.