The American remake of Asian horror trend burned brightly a little over a decade ago. One couldn’t throw a rock with hitting an American version of a spooky tale from Japan, Korea or any other Eastern nation. Of course, the one that hit this off was Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, a remake of the 1998 Japanese hit Ringu. Both films played on the fears of technology, with a cursed VHS tape and a horrible phone call that promises death within a week if the tape is watched. In a modern context, many of the themes of this franchise could be adapted rather well. Plenty of frightening concepts could come out of an email chain style connecting thread for Samara and her cursed tape with the internet becoming an all consuming part of daily life. Unfortunately, Rings doesn’t take full advantage of this concept. Or any other potential.
After a massive plane crash sequences that means nothing, Rings continues to start and stop multiple times over. First, we’re introduced to college professor and “vintage” tech enthusiast Gabriel (Johnny Galecki). He and his girlfriend Skye (Aimee Teegarden) have picked up a VCR from a garage sale hoping, only to find a mysterious unmarked tape with some familiar cryptic images. Rings then shifts focus to young Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) saying goodbye to her college bound boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe). While the two talk over Skype, Julia’s feed is taken over by a warped feed of Skye warning of a girl out to get Holt. Julia heads to campus where she runs into Skye. Skye drags Julia to her apartment and tries to get her to watch a digital version of the VHS. Unfortunately, Skye is too late as Samara comes out of her flat screen and ends her life to Julia’s horror. Holt finally finds Julia and reveals his part in an experiment spearheaded by Gabriel to see how far the reach of this killer tape is. They’ll have to hurry though, as with every stupid step they get themselves closer to death.
From that synopsis, one can tell that Rings seems kind of jumbled. Originally set for a November 2015 release, Rings has been delayed for a while. And boy does it show. The plot has this incredibly awkward stop-and-start nature to its focus, jumping from character to character and plot thread to plot thread with all the attention of a child with ADHD. The limp driving force falls into many of the traditional dumb traps of a horror sequel, mainly abandoning any sort of ambiguity in favor of filling in gaps. While The Ring did the same for Ringu to some extent with the backstory of Samara, Verbinski at least added more visual quirks and concepts to separate his version from the original.
Rings opts to take the general mythology of the first American film and twist it without adding much new. There are sparks of an idea, mainly with Johnny Galecki’s character hinting at the video as a portal to the afterlife. Yet, aside from a few visuals, nothing concrete is made of this concept. There’s a whole scene that takes place at what looks like a club based around the idea of the experiment. With kids who are deep seeded into the idea of tracing the supernatural nature of the video. It’s not really explained why this experiment leads to a little cultish enclave and it never really becomes a factor in the story except for a last minute twist that could be charitably described as “tangentially” related.
That germ of an idea about a near cult building around this underground killer tape could translate so well to our modern era. Where obsessive fan cultures build around memes of all things. So of course a Faces of Death-style source of insanity like a curse tape would have people clinging to it. Even the concept of it being a gateway to the other side could lead to creative twists and turns on this franchise. Yet, Rings doesn’t have the conviction to actually recontextualize the nature of the Samara tape beyond updating the technology involved. Instead, we just get Galecki trying his hardest to be dramatic while expelling exposition. Which means merely raising his eyebrow and mumbling his words.
However, that bland inability to connect isn’t exclusive to him. Our lead Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz has no real human capacity for emotional expression. Her and Alex Roe don’t have an ounce of chemistry, both coming off as fashion models who bumped into each other after a shoot rather than a couple one could ever feel invested in. She babbles out things that she sees like a four year old who can string together sentences for the first time about everything they see. The type of monosyllabic lead that makes a horror film like this even more drole than it has to be. That apathy translates to the audience sitting through Rings, a limp pool noodle of a film. It sucks up attention for momentary sparks of potential only to drip it out the other side.
Rings is trying to be so many things, as F. Javier Gutierrez can’t really nail down a tone or feel for these proceedings. Everything is shot like a second rate David Fincher grungy aesthetic, but lacks any actual sleaze to make it feel authentic. Even stuff that calls for it like the Don’t Breathe style antics involving Vincent D’Onofrio‘s blind man character have no propulsives or impact. Oh, and none of that is actually spoilery. You’d have to be as blind as he is to not see any of that coming. Some may call that comparison a bit unfair given that Don’t Breathe only came out last summer. However, given the delays and the lack of cohesion on display, it wouldn’t surprise me if at least half of this was reshot to pile in some last minute gags of that ilk.
Ultimately, Rings is a waste of time. Any time a nibble of something new or interesting as a twist on this franchise pops up, Rings shoves it into a corner to make way for the cliche or just plain incompetent. Despite the implications of its opening or ending, nothing concrete ever comes across in the final product. The actors are dull. Our story is insanely predictable. Every connection to the progenitor feels tacked on. There’s no appreciation for what came before and no original concept to give it individual identity. Rings just flatly lies on the ground hoping someone will catch its eye like the cursed Samara tape. Unfortunately, this will be a VHS tape that no one will have the courtesy to rewind anytime soon.
Rings (1 / 5)