Technology has changed a lot over the past two decades, so taking an older franchise that relied on older technology and bringing it into the modern day world can be an interesting opportunity to make things fresh and potentially kickstart the sequel machine once again for new and old audiences. Scream attempted to do so back in 2011, and while it didn’t set the box-office ablaze, it was at least entertaining and made the jump to modern day quite well. The same can’t be said for the latest franchise to try and make the leap, however, as Rings proves that this is a franchise that should have remained at the bottom of the well circa 2005.
The first film, The Ring, starred Naomi Watts, and it was full of chills, shocks and nightmarish images. I still remember seeing it in the theater and being absolutely terrified when Samara crawled out of the TV for the first time and went in for the kill. It was just unexpected. She crawled out and then began to slowly walk towards her victim and in the blink of an eye she’d zap a few feet closer…just the insomnia causing type moments you hope to find in a well made horror film.
Rings is somewhat confusing, as it’s not clear if it’s actually taking place in the same world as the original two films, or if it’s a reboot to start fresh. That lack of clarity is only one of the many problems that holds this film back, but it’s one that should have been quite easy to answer. Some horror films bring back the scream queen from the older installments and kill them off in the opening act to help connect the films, while others may just reference the happenings of the previous tales in an attempt to do so, albeit more subtly – but Rings does neither.
If you don’t know the story of The Ring, the basic premise is that there’s a video tape (yes, we’re talking VHS here) that if you watch it, you’ll receive a phone call immediately after and a girl’s voice will say, “Seven days,” and after that you’ll start seeing bizarre and creepy things until that same girl comes to kill you seven days after that very phone call.
So to modernize the premise, a college professor named Gabriel (played by Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki) finds a VCR at a flea market, and inside of it is the cursed tape. He watches it without knowing what it is, gets the phone call, and his seven days begins. Next, we’re introduced to Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), our two main characters, though Julia is the true heroine here. Holt is going off to college, and while he and Julia try the long distance thing, Holt just stops calling her altogether not long after he starts school.
After getting a bizarre message from one of Holt’s classmates about how someone is coming to get them and there’s no stopping her, Julia decides to go down to Holt’s school and uncover the truth. There she finds that Holt is actually a part of a group Gabriel has created, where if someone watches “the tape” (which has now been digitized as a .mov file) then all they need to do is make a copy and get someone else to watch it, and that will somehow stop their seven days and pass it on to this new person, who they refer to as a tail.
It’s never really explained why this whole “tail” thing works, or how Gabriel even came up with it, but it’s incredibly elaborate as far as his workshop goes. The entire floor of an old building is taken up with images of people after they’ve watched the tape, clocks counting down the various “seven day” cycles, and people are everywhere. But we’re never really told how many of these people actually watched the tape, or what they’re all doing with the information it provides.
I mean, there’s a generic theory about life after death and the soul and yada, yada, yada, but it’s flimsy and doesn’t get into why all these people were needed outside of just passing along the curse from one person to the next. There’s never a hint at an end-game or if this is just never ending with just tail after tail being added on. It’s especially weird to go this route because it takes away any fear or tension from the main plot device of The Ring franchise in that when your seven days are up, get ready for a gruesome death! This time out the modo seems to be just keep passing it on and you win. The audience is bored to tears, but you survive, so huzzah!
When Skye (Aimee Teegarden) tries to make Julia her tail, Holt warns Julia away and Skye meets a grisly end thanks to Samara popping out of the TV. The thing is, it’s not scary at all. The haunting memories of this happening from the first film back in 2002 aren’t reached on any level. That’s because there’s been no tension in the film at all to this point. There’s no atmosphere that has the viewer wrapped up in the story, fearing for anyone who has seen this cursed tape…it’s just a generic monster moment with no build and that’s that.
Again, the plot becomes unclear as Holt shows up and now his “markings” given to him by this cursed being are showing up even stronger, so Julia watches the tape to protect him and become his tail. Did he need a new tail because Skye died? So is this basically Final Destination meets The Ring? It’s just so poorly executed and confusing as to what the rules are this time out.
In order to some sort of plot going, the tape that Julia watched had more scenes in it than the original tape that everyone else has watched. How is that possible? Who knows! The movie certainly doesn’t explain it outside of saying that Samara has basically chosen her to see more and solve the mystery of her death. And thus begins the incredibly easy case of figuring out what happened to Samara, as the movie puts so few obstacles in front of Julia as she tries to solve the “mystery” that we’re just kind of along for the ride. An incredibly dull ride that lacks heavily in the scares department…not quite what you want when making a horror film.
The movie looks okay from a production design standpoint, but the plot is so by the book that you’re kind of waiting for things you know are going to happen instead of being on edge as things are being discovered. The acting leaves plenty to be desired, as there’s just no reality to how the characters react to all that’s happening to them. Julia walks into this insane scenario and just fully accepts it as normal. And it’s not just her; it’s everyone around her. They all just talk and react like some ghost kid giving you a seven day death sentence is as normal as catching a cold.
The smarter move here would have likely been to just reboot the series as a whole and start fresh. It’s been twelve years since the sequel, which is plenty of time to say, “Okay, we can start fresh and nobody will mind.” It would have at least allowed for the chance to modernize a well-done story for younger audiences of today. Instead, Rings no doubt signals the death of this franchise, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Blu-ray transfer of the film looks great, as does the sound design. Both top notch jobs done by the studio there. It’s unfortunate that a better film couldn’t accompany them.
On the special features front we get minimal featurettes that mainly see the cast pumping up how awesome the movie is. Now, obviously they’re not going to dismiss it, but this comes off more as promotional pieces for the film over special features for people who have just bought or rented it.
Terror Comes Full Circle – This feature comes in at 12 and a half minutes, and takes a look back at the original movie, updating things, how the more modern technology of today caused changes to the film, and Samara’s evolution. Bonnie Morgan plays Samara in the film and also did the work for the character in The Ring 2 during the well scene. She just raves and raves about how iconic the images from the original video tape are, and how even to this day people see a ladder or a chair in a room and go, “Oh no,” and get a creepy vibe. No, no we don’t. I don’t think I looked at a ladder an hour after watching the original film and even remembered it being anything to register as scary, let alone 15 years later. The original film could be considered more of a classic horror to a degree, but I don’t think the imagery has caused nightmares like she things.
Resurrecting the Dead: Bringing Samara Back – This feature is just over nine minutes in length and goes through the makeup process of Samara, how long it takes, all that’s done and it’s quite fun to see it come together. That said, this really shows how minimally she was used in the film, as they really only focus on the one scene I spoke about above, and that’s pretty much her entire role in the movie.
Scary Scenes – This 6.5 minute featurette sees the cast and crew talk about how they feel about horror movies and what they think the scariest scenes are in the film.
Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes – There are almost 20 minutes worth of scenes here, but the only one really worth checking out is the alternate ending. I personally like it better than the ending they chose. It’s almost the same, but the difference is enough to have a throwback line between two characters that was a nice touch, and it also really makes you feel like the world is in trouble. It feels like this was tossed aside in hopes that the ending chosen would help with potential sequels.
Paramount Pictures Presents Rings. Directed by: F. Javier Gutierrez. Written by: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldman. Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden. Running time: 102 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: May 2, 2017.
Tags: F. Javier Gutierrez, Matilda Lutz, Rings