Hello, everyone! Sorry for the month long delay between posts. If you couldn’t guess, it’s because my spring semester has been as chaotic as Donald Trump’s presidency and I’ve only just found my footing. Last Friday I saw Rings, the third installment in the American adaptation of the Japanese Ringu. A completely mediocre movie through and through, Rings adds nothing to the franchise but derivative storytelling, lousy acting, and a serving of warmed-over creepiness. By updating the premise for the digital age, the film draws attention to its own fading relevance.
Synopsis: When her boyfriend Holt leaves for college, Julia is certain that they’ll be able to maintain their relationship. It’s not until halfway through the semester that Holt has gone off the radar and Julia must find him. Her search leads her to Gabriel, Holt’s biology teacher who has been studying the eternal nature of the soul through Samara’s famous VCR tape, now uploaded to the internet and spread through email. After learning that Holt has watched the tape and has been unable to pass on the curse, Julia takes on his burden. Her decision links her to Samara in an unparalleled way; to end the curse, she must discover the girl’s past and free her from her suffering.
If you’ve seen The Ring, you’ll be thinking that the above synopsis sounds eerily similar to the first movie. You’d be correct. The plot is almost exactly the same: girl watches tape, girl searches for Samara’s past, girl learns that destroying the curse isn’t as easy as she hoped. What I take issue with is that although horror movie sequels aren’t known for originality, they at least attempt to create an original theme for the movie. Take Insidious and Insidious 2. One could say that theme of the first movie is that repressing one’s past will create worse problems in the future. The theme of the second movie is that when one lets their fears consume them, they hurt the ones they love. Both movies deal with The Further and the second film is derivative, but at least the two films are distinct enough to have specific themes. Rings failed in this aspect. With The Ring, the theme of the movie is also a twist ending, which created a nasty little surprise upon first viewing, but when the exact same “twist” theme is presented in Rings, it’s boring and sloppy.
One of the most crucial elements in a good horror movie is the element of surprise. Fear and unease are grounded in the unknown. Because Samara is already such an iconic horror movie character, any scares inspired from her presence need to be tweaked so that the audience can find something new to be scared of. Unfortunately, Rings barely alters Samara. She crawls out of the TV, like you know she will, and she brings with her the expected cloud of insects and puddles of mucky water. Even her method of killing her victims is predictable. Rings is aware of Samara’s predictability enough to introduce another villain, one whose ulterior motives manage to be surprising enough to pique the audience’s interest. One scene in particular, in which Julia discovers the villain’s subterranean dungeon, was the creepiest in the whole film. Most of the scares, however, are derived from Samara, and once you’ve seen her once, you’ve seen it all.
Besides the lack of surprise, the main fault of Rings lies in the characters and the actors. Julia is one of the stupidest horror movie protagonists I have ever had the displeasure of watching. She spends the whole movie bent on helping Samara and ignoring every blatant warning around her, such as the fact that, I don’t know, birds are dying around her, her hand has been branded, and Samara keeps sending her terrifying visions. Even when Burke, the priest, ham-handedly reveals to her the THEME of the movie, she continues on her thickheaded quest to save Samara. The Ring taught us one thing: Samara is evil and nothing will change that. But Rings still spends 107 minutes trying to sell a Samara redemption story. There’s no point in buying into Julia’s quest if the audience knows it’s a false one.
Despite her foolish motivation, Julia could have been a watchable character if not for actress Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (quite a mouthful). With two expressions (blank or fearful) and flat intonation, Lutz makes watching Julia chore. She has none of the gumption nor spark necessary for a horror movie leading lady. And since she’s the successor to Naomi Watts, her inadequacy is glaringly obvious. Luckily, she’s not alone in a movie filled with middling performances. Alex Roe can’t elevate Holt beyond Generic Hot Boyfriend, while Big Bang Theory vet Johnny Galecki does nothing with his Snarky Professor character. The only actor worth watching is Vincent D’Onofrio as the Priest Burke, but only because he’s so hammy.
Final Consensus: The meat of Rings is mediocre, but the trimmings have merit. For one, the cinematography is beautiful, achieving the same somber green and grey tones as the original film. The editing is exciting and moves the film along at a brisk pace. Composer Matthew Margeson incoporates Hans Zimmer’s theme from The Ring into an effectively spooky soundtrack. As you’ll notice, however, there’s a pattern here. Anything good in Rings is copied from the first film. There is nothing original to be found.