If you enjoyed the Ring franchise, including the original Japanese Ringu films, then you probably assumed the story had a definitive ending and there wasn’t really anywhere left for it to go. It’s possible they could have rebooted it with a new concept and a new story, but otherwise there was nothing left to mine from the world of Samara. A good horror movie has a tendency to dilute its product by making endless sequels to the point where the monster becomes a novelty. Once it loses it’s potency, you only continue watching them out of nostalgia and loyalty to the brand. Sometimes sequels can be better than the original, but it’s a tall order and there are more risks than benefits.
In Rings, directed by F. Javier Gutierrez, Julia (Matilda Lutz) is a recent high school graduate who puts college on hold while she cares for her sick mother. Her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) goes off to college, but stays in contact regularly. When Julia suddenly cannot reach Holt, she drives to his campus to find him and uncovers a mysterious experiment involving an old videotape that kills the person who watches it 7 days later. Holt’s teacher Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) is using his students as guinea pigs in order to study the existence of an afterlife. When the experiment leads to an unexpected death, Julia’s life becomes entangled in this project and now she must learn everything she can about Samara before it’s too late.
The story of Samara in the first Ring was interesting because you knew very little initially, but over time you picked up one clue after another and filled in the blanks. The suspense steadily grew as the clock on Rachel’s life was reaching its end. It was a terrific story of mystery, heartache, and child abuse that amplified all of its scares with each new scene. Once the mystery was solved, however, there wasn’t much else to be afraid of anymore. The monster was confined to an outdated form of media that would later be used as fatal chainmail. The movie It Follows adopted this concept of passing a curse onto someone else, with improved results. Pulse and Sinister also used the idea of viewing video as a death curse and expanded on it. The V/H/S films are the most recent examples of this framing device as well.
Giving a monster or a deadly character a backstory is fine, but you need to be clear about the rules of your horror film. These things can happen and these things can’t. If you start throwing in random, supernatural scares and giving your evil character powers they never had, it confuses the audience and makes them lose focus. I think Rings tried to reinvent the wheel by using Samara’s backstory and giving it an unexpected twist. It doesn’t add anything to the franchise and just makes things more complicated. One particular aspect of this movie that irritates me is how it uses the cursed video to trick the audience, but changes everything about it. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but it generates some good scares so you play along and hope it all pays off. It doesn’t.
Rings is a sequel that is built on an intriguing premise, but suffers from one too many convoluted plot holes. Johnny Galecki’s character interested me the most, but I don’t think the writers knew quite what to do with him and his story arch just floundered. Matilda Lutz does a pretty good job as the woman searching for answers and being startled by hallucinations at every turn. Vincent D’Onofrio has a small part and gives some gravitas to the movie, similar to the scenes with Brian Cox in the original. A huge problem in this movie is how many of the actors read their dialogue. There is no emotion behind their words and it’s clearly them reacting to the words on the page instead of reacting to the situation itself. Understanding your partner’s performance and working off their energy is how you make a scene come alive and keep the audience engaged.
Many people criticize sequels, ironically, for not being original enough. They tend to rehash old storylines and take you on journeys you’ve already tread. Rings is no exception and the writers should have tried harder to give it its own identity, but instead it took all the things we loved about the first Ring and removed all the subtlety and suspense. Instead we get a mishandling of familiar scares, which lack any context if you’ve never seen the original, and boring characters trying to make us care if they live or die. It’s ok to be curious about this movie, but don’t expect much. I’m certainly curious to see where this franchise is headed, but I kind of hope the following sequels remind me less and less of the Ring I know and do their own thing.
Synopsis: A young woman finds herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that threatens to take her life in 7 days.
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Writers: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio,, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan
Runtime: 1 Hour, 42 Minutes