Rings is the third installment of the American “Ring” series which started back in 2002 with the Naomi Watts led, The Ring directed by Gore Verbinski. Perhaps counting on the fact that it’s been 15-years since the original and twelve since the sequel, the creators of Rings open with a scene eschewing all pretense and jump right into exposition from the first line. “Have you ever heard of the videotape where you watch it and die?” People in the theater were cracking up.
By the time the title card comes up about ten minutes into the film, you’re already shaking your head. If you’ve never seen a Ring movie before, here’s the gist: There’s a cursed videotape the kills you 7-days after you watch it… unless you copy it and pass the curse to someone else. If that last line you read sounds familiar, it’s because it’s basically the plot of the heralded It Follows (2014), just replacing “watch videotape” with “have sex with someone.” And that’s the biggest issue with Rings for me. This film had three screenwriters and was continually pushed back in release dates. In the time it took for this to get out into theaters, other horror movies went to the same places, in better ways. I wrote down in my notebook the following titles of movies I felt Rings was a tad similar to; It Follows (2014), the Final Destination series, Silent Hill (2006), Don’t Breathe (2016), etc.
The main plot revolves around high school sweethearts Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe). They are both fine, but disposable “WB-type” actors. Alex goes off to college, and they skype every night until he doesn’t, and Julia begins to get concerned. She goes to find Holt and discovers he’s part of an experiment being led by science professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki). See he found the tape (because apparently copies are in every last VCR in the world), and has copied it and created a pseudo-cult of youngsters who watch/copy/share the tape with others. The point of all this is to uncover the truth about the human soul and it’s undying nature, but in reality everyone is actively taking part in the killing of someone else, and no one seems to be that worried. Oh except Skye (Aimee Teegarden), who despite being Gabriel’s girlfriend can’t find a tail and Samara comes for her in classic Rings style.
The real drive of the film (and its best parts) come from the mystery that develops after this long-ish first half. Julia watched the tape to protect Holt, and Samara marks her… this isn’t the usual “7-days” stuff either. Gabriel discovers a “tape within the tape” that appears only after Julia is touched. Julia and Holt follow the leads in the tape a la Naomi Watts in the original, and are soon in a small rural community where Samara may or may not have been. These scenes are some of the best in the film, as the mystery about who Samara is and where she came from is well told and some of the scenes are actually tense and scary. There’s a scene involving climbing into a grave and uncovering some truths in a church basement that provided genuine thrills. The issues are that surrounding those impressive scenes are filled with some questionable line-reads and borderline funny (albeit unintentionally) moments. Typically in Hollywood when you see multiple screenwriters, you know there were issues, and I found it hilarious to discover one of the writers was Oscar winner, Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). Despite his credentials, there are two animal jump scares that particularly made me shake my head, and a few different scenes where all the action pauses, so we can hear an exposition story. And literally everyone in the movie saw the twists coming, so the exposition was just very unnecessary.
One thing I felt the film missed a real opportunity on was the whole “modern technology” aspect. Many in the target audience are growing up long past VCRs and videotapes, and while the films shows plenty of Quicktime files being shared, I thought it would make great use of file sharing on social media, and YouTube to show how easy it was to spread the curse in 2017. Despite its flaws, and there were many, when I walked out of the screening, my first thought was “that was NOT awful”. Everything about it was competent, sure some of the young attractive leads belong more on teenage primetime dramas, but we got a fun Vincent D’Onofrio supporting role, and Johnny Galecki might as well have been playing Leonard from Big Bang Theory. After the screening, I was talking with other critics and friends, and no one outwardly hated the film. It is pure disposable fun horror in a season that usually sticks sappy love stories into theaters, trying to pinch the Valentine’s Day crowd. I feel Rings is a movie I’ll rewatch again for the ridiculous moments. The opening scene is definitely an all time “so bad it’s good” moment. Of course because it’s a horror film and part of a pre-established series, there is set up for a potential sequel, and dare I say, I’ll be there.
Rings opens worldwide today, February 3rd in theaters everywhere.
Rings Trailer (2017) | Movieclips Trailers
Rings Trailer #2 (2017): Check out the new Rings trailer starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Johnny Galecki, and Laura Wiggins!