‘Rings’ would be more appealing if it went in circles
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Writers: David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Bonnie Morgan
“Rings” – “I need to see this through!” – Julia
“Why?” – Holt (Julia’s boyfriend)
About 70 minutes into “Rings” - the latest sequel to 2002’s “The Ring” - Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) has the above exchange with Holt (Alex Roe), because she feels compelled to discover the secrets of the infamous villain, Samara (Bonnie Morgan).
At that particular moment, I realized that life imitates art, because I was having that same internal dialogue and was thinking, ‘No matter how dull and lifeless this 102-minute horror movie may be, I need to see it through to the end.’
Why? ‘It’s my job.’
Hopefully, my uneventful movie experience can save you from a similar fate, because, quite frankly, “Rings” certainly is one humdrum horror flick, with its biggest scare coming from a dog’s bark. One simple jump scare.
This film does, however, occupy another 101 minutes and 58 seconds of screen time, so let’s start from the top.
A biology professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), discovers a VCR at a flea market and finds a heinous video tape that unleashes an evil spirit named Samara, seven days after one views its contents. For some highly questionable research reasons, he persuades many of his students to watch the tape, including Holt, a young intern. Once Holt does not return his girlfriend’s (Julia’s) calls and texts, she drives to campus, discovers his life hangs in the balance and becomes entangled in this deadly, supernatural web.
The original “The Ring” spun mountains of tension, because Samara and her intentions were wholly unknown at the time, while the film’s protagonist (Naomi Watts) attempted to thwart a fatal attack against the tick tock of a seven-day clock. In 2002 - assuming one did not watch the previous “Ringu” films from Japan - the journey into this ill-fated world, in which a waterlogged corpse with gangly, black hair climbs out of an abandoned well and piles up her body count, was new.
In 2017, this act feels tired, because an informed audience knows the rules of engagement with Samara and how to avoid danger.
First of all, if a character has not actually seen the video, he or she is no danger. Due to this rule, one of the signature sequences within the first 30 minutes leaves no surprises or scares. Julia finds herself locked-in with Holt’s friend in an apartment. Now, Holt’s friend viewed the video and Samara targets her in the living room. Even though Julia cowers in the adjacent bathroom, she harbors absolutely no risk.
Secondly, the seven-day rule buys the victim time. In this case, Julia eventually does view the video’s contents, but her life is not at stake until the seventh day arrives. During a majority of the film, director F. Javier Gutierrez throws a number of nightmare visions at Julia, including snakes, iron chains and other sinister images. Since these images – during “Day One” through “Day Six” - are clearly non-lethal visions, Julia’s life is never jeopardized. These repetitive sequences plainly go through the motions, because the real worry will not appear until “Day 7”.
Outside of the aforementioned, harmless attack and some daytime nightmares, Julia drags Holt to the tiny town of Sacrament Valley to literally and figuratively dig up dirt on Samara to end (or free her from) her reign of terror. This pair of one-dimensional characters play Sherlock Holmes to investigate clues (like a church steeple and a trail of bugs) and meet various small-town residents with less personality than your average “Scooby-Doo” character.
Personally, I was hoping that the bed and breakfast owner (Jill Jane Clements) would randomly blurt out, “You meddling kids.”
Alas, no such luck.
The only worthy piece to this slow-moving puzzle is the always charismatic Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays a blind man named Burke. Thankfully, most of his precious few onscreen moments at least bring some life to the story, but then again, even D’Onofrio cannot salvage this lost horror film. At least he added one more reason for me “to see this through”, other than it’s my job.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.