Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez
A flick of static, swarms of flies and lots of long black hair. Yes, Samara has returned! After a 12 year hiatus (during which time 3 Japanese sequels were made) the corpse of the American franchise has been temporarily brought back to life. Directed by series newcomer F. Javier Gutiérrez (behind the underrated Before The Fall), Rings promises to take the classic tension between old myths and modern tech into the new era.
It certainly starts out promisingly. During a genuinely tense opener, taking place in the air, we’re reminded of the rules: watch the tape then share it, or die in 7 days. Two years later, molecular biologist Gabriel (Galecki going against typecast) comes across a copy, inside a ‘vintage’ VCR, that he watches at home. Next the usual call comes in as, outside, the rain pours upwards. It all looks stunning. From this cold night we cut to our young protagonists Julia (Lutz) and Holt (Roe) saying goodbye before the latter moves state for college. Of course they promise to “Skype everyday”, but a few weeks later he vanishes and a random girl appears on his feed yelling about how they’re in danger. Guess which lecturer he’s been spending time with.
Julia goes to find him and from here the movie develops an exciting little premise: Gabriel running a large experiment with the tape, and hundred of poor viewers, to find evidence of a soul. Admittedly this isn’t something many molecular biologists would concern themselves with, though he is something of a maverick (making the obligatory cool professor references to sex and drink). However, a few relatively skilled scare scenes later and she’s seen the video too – taking a Samara bullet for her boyfriend. Yet it’s not the same one – it’s evolving with replication! So far so intriguing, with Rings looking set to reinvent the wheel. Then, within the length of an onscreen car ride, half an hour in it completely lost me. It became yet another week long quest to yet another rural area to dig up yet another body plus part of the curse’s past. Then, to keep the audience entertained by this labor of laziness, cue continuous jump scares, hallucinations and a creepy blind man (a wasted D’Onofrio) who so obviously knows more than he lets on. Before the last 10 minutes to teases a better film than the one they just spent 2 hours watching.
After a number of failed attempts to follow up the original, or its remake (Ring 0 being an exception), I’m beginning to think the idea simply doesn’t lend itself to a franchise. Unless filmmakers experiment heavily, or actually plan a sequence like the books, then the need to identify recurring aspects for each part is a creative anchor. Given that the curse can’t strike straight away, then it ends up being more foreboding warnings that ‘she’s coming’ just in time for the ending. There are only so many visions or dreams you can do, so ultimately the source of tension has to come from the mystery. Sadly, by now this angle has been done to death and there’s really not much left to explore about a concept that gets less interesting with each reiteration. Here neither the puzzle nor its solution are especially engaging. Plot points are also so telegraphed that it’s laughable when things that aren’t really twists get presented as them. The shiny new origin story also fails to build substantially on what came before, referencing the remake and then essentially aping it. This brings us to the biggest problem with Rings: it’s actually kind of boring. And that’s the opposite of what a suspense horror ought to be.
Speaking to Horror Cult Films, before the screening, Gutiérrez said he wanted the opportunity to take the old tale into a modern realm of trends, hashtags and going viral – in other words, making Samara a monstrous meme. Yet a handful of sequences aside, this movie would have been the exact same if it’d come out over a decade ago. We should be getting an ancient curse in cyber space, like a more mature Friend Request. Maybe next time, as for now its 2 teens figuring out the backing story of a creepy old village. What’s frustrating is he does such a commendable job of presenting an all too mediocre story. There’s a lot of beautiful shots, some great moody locations and inspired original takes on the series iconography. During the video and dream sequences, plus when bits from the video unexpectedly flash up, he’s in his elements. The few elaborate set-pieces are also accomplished, with the opener where Samara’s on a plane being as good as anything the franchise has done before. Then there’s the closer that hints at a much bigger sequel i.e. the one we should have got. Sure, it’s better than The Ring Two, but that’s not really enough to justify its idealess resurrection all this time later. I’m getting sick of saying this in reviews, but visual flair can’t save a shoddy script. And unfortunately once again the writers have gone back to the well.
Rings is out now. Check out our exclusive interview with director F. Javier Gutiérrez.