If there was any horror movie that was surely trapped in a different era, the Rings films must be it. They revolve around a video tape, and they stopped being made about fifteen years ago – when it was announced that Rings was to be released, there wasn’t really very much excitement. That lack of enthusiasm is entirely justified – Rings had the potential to be something quite different (and there are definite hints of that potential), but is just a lesser version of the same thing.
In a flea market, a college professor called Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) discovers an old video player and, at home, he discovers a video tape inside. Playing it, he watches Samara’s video and receives a phone call, telling him he has seven days to live. Meanwhile, a young woman (Matilda Lutz) becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores the dark culture around the tape – she sacrifices herself by watching it and, in doing so, she makes a horrifying discovery. There is a movie within the movie that nobody has ever seen before. Armed with this knowledge, she sets out on a quest to discover the origins of Samara and figure out how to escape her seven-day death sentence.
Rings is wonderfully annoying and disappointing in one respect – the screenplay floats interesting ideas that would make for an exciting and new twist on the formula, and then decides not to use them. It opens with the biggest set-piece in the film (and the one that the trailers have really been pushing), and then just drops it five minutes in. None of the characters or the event are relevant to anything that then happens, and it seems a bit of a cheat.
It’s a similar principle with Gabriel’s research into the movie – it’s an interesting set-up, and the few suggestions we see are intriguing. Then, almost immediately, we drop all of that, and settle into the same ‘race against time’ storyline we have found in all of these films – it’s a shame to begin with big statements, and then use the clichéd one.
This film also suffers in that in it doesn’t really have an interesting lead presence (the first film boasted Naomi Watts, and she brought an air of humanity to the picture that actually made you worry about her character). It’s not that Lutz was particularly terrible but, as she races through the picture (I say – she’s rather leisurely for someone racing for her life) noticeably struggling with her accent, she doesn’t really do anything other than go through the motions with her cardboard character. She gets more to do than Alex Roe – as her boyfriend, Holt, he’s essentially than as dull eye candy.
The more established actors do better with their lot. Galecki is essentially here as an exposition device, and he puts in the minimum for his paycheque. Vincent D’Onofrio also puts in an appearance as a blind priest with some knowledge of Samara (and despite the insistence on him in the trailers, he’s in all of two or three scenes). He carries the picture in his scenes, especially during the movie’s most terrifying sequence, one with definite rumblings of last year’s Don’t Breathe.
For a horror film, it suffers pretty much the cardinal sin, in that it is not really that scary. The videotape barely reaches creepy, and the movie’s scare scenes misjudge the tone too badly to really frighten. Even Samara lacks the fear she once conveyed – we have few deaths in the picture, and it’s the same old trick of Samara having a scary face (that, and one that relies on the cluelessness of the world’s least useful rescue workers). You can’t reboot a film like this after so long, and not do anything new with the formula (the only real updates happen in the last minute, as painfully obvious sequel bait).
Rings should have been better than it is, but a lack of imagination and scares render it a dull horror. The flashes of good in the picture aren’t really enough to recommend it to anyone other than particularly diehard fans of the earlier films. You watch this, and you may die, but boredom is the only risk of that happening.
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Cast: Matilda Lutz (Julia), Alex Roe (Holt), Johnny Galecki (Gabriel), Vincent D’Onofrio (Burke), Aimee Teegarden (Skye), Bonnie Morgan (Samara)
Running Time: 102 Mins