Published on February 3rd, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
For some reason (well, money) Samara and The Ring franchiseis back with the third film in the American iteration of this horror series, in Rings.
Following in the genre tradition of churning out execrable sequels in the name of a quick buck, Rings is yet another stupid and barely redeemable horror series continuation. It isn’t a reboot (thank God) and it does tie in with its predecessors better than some of the spin-offs that share a title and a villain but carry few to no connections to its forbearers. Rings could really be called The Ring Three, but that would only serve as a painful reminder and a warning to those who remember a former heralded series that’s fallen from grace.
The creepy videocassette from 2002’s The Ring (and its embarrassing follow-up, 2005’s The Ring Two) is back terrorizing screens again, albeit with a slight upgrade for the YouTube generation. VHS makes a quick cameo near the start of the proceedings before the evil, tortured soul of Samara is digitized and introduced to smartphones, tablets, and laptops worldwide.
This time around Samara’s haunting a blank slate named Julia (Matilda Lutz) and her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe). We know absolutely nothing about them other than their names and that they’re young and beautiful people. Toss ‘em in front of some danger and the stage is set for some predictable setpieces and a whole lot of bland, repetitive, and unintelligible dialogue. Give them a vague purpose and an oriented sense of direction and what you’ll get might be capable of getting the job done at a bare minimum of acceptable quality. And that’s what Rings gives you: the bare minimum of acceptable quality for a cheap horror flick. As a film, it’s unremarkable in every way. But for the die-hard lovers of scary movies? Meh, we’ve seen worse.
The single greatest sin of the film is its complete inability to elicit even the smallest of scares. Not a single jolt or shiver is manifested during Rings’ 102 minute runtime (which feels a hell of a lot longer than it actually is). Director F. Javier Gutiérrez might be able to frame some solid compositions but he hasn’t learned to play audiences’ emotions like a maestro yet. This is only the filmmaker’s second feature – the first being the little-seen sci-fi Before the Fall from nine years ago. He does seem to be competent enough in moving his camera effectively but a few striking images do not measure up to a fully satisfying experience.
There’s unintentional laughter abound during certain moments, as might be expected from a shoddy horror movie. And Gutiérrez shows his hand and exposes his weakest strength to comically groan-inducing heights: the performances he guides from his actors threaten to hobble practically every single scene.
Italian actress Matilda Lutz has her first big Hollywood role here and does absolutely nothing with the opportunity. Perhaps she was misdirected, or perhaps she just isn’t a strong performer – who’s to say? But it is certifiable that Lutz’s function in the movie as the protagonist does not work at all. She resembles a discount Jessica Alba but with none of the charisma.
The supporting players don’t get a lot to do. Even a spry Vincent D’Onofrio hamming it up as a blind man with intimate knowledge of Samara’s story does little to energize the slog. Aimee Teegarden (from TV’s Friday Night Lights) probably impresses the most and adds some electricity to her shamefully short span as a generic scary movie victim. Johnny Galecki looks sleepy and disinterested in every single moment he’s on screen. In short, the deck wasn’t stacked particularly well in the casting department.
Nothing’s more confounding in all of Rings than its barely-stitched-together story. There are plot holes and gaps galore, and it really feels like scenes have been jostled together after extensive cuts in the editing room. Even when we get a glimmer of some plot elements that could prove to be even potentially interesting, we’re rushed off to try to move this story along.
With all the reshoots, delays in release dates, and stagnation of the source material, maybe everyone just sort of gave up? It isn’t unfathomable to imagine that there’s a world where Rings cannot and should not exist because there simply isn’t anything there that can be discovered and shined up to resemble something new and exciting. But pre-existing awareness of a franchise name dictates that there will always be another swing at the bat. Personally, I’d like to think that the rights to the “Ringu” source material were about to expire and the studio brass decided to keep their option alive by chucking another entry into an increasingly demanding marketplace. That’s a depressing thought, but that green bottom line is all that matters in Tinseltown, sadly. Which is why the recent Earth-shattering horror flicks (such as the masterful The Witch by first-time director Robert Eggers from last year) generally trend towards independent, ultra low budget productions. The big guns seem unable to show up with the goods when there’s mega bucks on the line.
If you consider yourself a fan of the “series” (it’s tough to consider it an ongoing thing when it ran out of steam a dozen years ago) then you’re probably already chomping at the bit to see just how Samara can wreak havoc in 2017. Even casual fans of the movies from the aughts should be warned that there is nothing in Rings that will renew your interest. Like a classic old tape you watched time and time again as a kid, this one’s completely worn out.