VHS, DVD or Streaming – ‘Rings’ Isn’t the One to Watch
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, certain frightening films lingered in your minds for years on end. For starters, found-footage granddaddy, The Blair Witch Project is one of the first to come to mind. The same goes for The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, which chilled audiences to the bone two summer later. The Ring is certainly worthy of the creepy company as a genre standout for that time. Nearly 15 years later, what was simply a done-and-over premise returns for round three in Rings.
In Rings, the terror of Samara has yet to find its climax, despite what 2005’s The Ring Two insinuated. The latest victim is on a plane bound for Seattle, realizing the seven-day rule since watching the videotape is nearing its end. Without a new victim in place to watch the cursed VHS tape, Samara wreaks her vengeance on the airplane, sending all the passengers to their deaths. Two years later, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory) unknowingly picks up the victim’s VCR at a garage sale, which also contains the evil media.
Gabriel’s student, Holt (Alex Roe) and his girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) are caught up in the mess. At the college, Gabriel experiments with his students, forcing them to watch the VHS tape allowing the seven-day routine to transpire. But they can alway find a “tail” or another person to watch the tape and pass the curse along. That’s just as bad as passing along “It” in It Follows. Cursed by the tape, Holt and Julia are forced to either give someone else this death sentence or find an alternative in breaking the curse completely.
Like The Blair Witch Project, The Ring was perfect as a standalone horror film. The Ring Two was nothing to brag about, but it managed to continue the story of Naomi Watts’ character and her son. Even Daveigh Chase, who played Samara in the previous films, is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a different actress when freed from her video prison. Rings is completely ignorant of the previous film, dragging its feet for 100 minutes of unnecessary additions to the Ring mythos. There was a time in 2002 and going back to the Japanese Ringu, where this is a genuinely frightening experience.
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Not anymore. Rings dives headfirst into dumb, teen horror, stripping away any sense of dread that’s tied to Samara’s curse. Additionally, Rings shifts between moments of unintentional humor and spells of dullness. 45 minutes into the film and the characters are still trying to figure out who the next victim on campus will be. And somewhere along the lines, somebody thought it would be a great idea to transfer the footage from VHS to MP4. Guess streaming’s getting scary now, but at least a modern horror like Unfriended tackled the medium much better.
Director F. Javier Gutierrez treats Rings like two separate films. The first half centers around the aforementioned dumb, teen horror, while the latter focuses on whatever history we’ve yet to uncover about Samara. The latter has plenty of ground make up for, but also requires plenty of forced retconning once Vincent D’Onofrio enters the fold. What’s worse is that Rings falls victim to many horror cliches. Dumb characters and cheap jump scares and the list goes on from there.
Samara’s story at one time was nightmarish and effective. Like Blair Witch from last fall, a cash-grab is blatantly obvious, but how much more story can be told before watering down its vastly superior predecessors? Sadly incoherent, there are more puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit with the overall picture. Somehow power over a VHS tape has evolved into Skype and digital files.
A third film might have worked a decade ago with Watts and company, but the party has been long gone. Rings plays more like an unwanted spin-off that’s more annoying and disposable with its presence.