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To be sure, Rings starts dark, raising the stakes with a horrific plane crash caused by series antagonist Samara, a creepy child, who, you’ll recall, has been stalking and murdering those who watch a specific unmarked video cassette. It’s a steep upgrade from the more personal attacks seen previously and attempts to set up a more weighty experience but unfortunately is only a precursor to a dull, repetitive, and unimaginative entry that tries to set up a second wind of sorts for the series but only leaves it one to avoid.
After that bombastic start, we get another false start of sorts as Professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) comes upon a “vintage” VCR at a sale, learning it comes from a young man who had died in a plane crash two years earlier. He naturally finds the Samara tape inside and, unknowing of its curse, plays it. The phone rings directly after.
Next we meet desperately in love young couple Holt (Alex Roe) and Julia (Matilda Lutz). He is on his way to college while she stays behind to care for her mother. Not long after he’s gone, she gets a mysterious Skype call from a strange girl who demands she tell her where he is. Realizing he has disappeared, Julia takes after him, coming to the school and discovering a kind of underground clan of students, led by Gabriel, who are attempting to unlock the secrets to the tape and Samara herself. This includes a space-command-like setup of monitors counting down the doomsday timelines of her coming victims who are using “tails” to try and stay alive.
When Julia finally catches up with Holt, she agrees to become his tail and take on the curse, hoping to learn what she can to expose a weakness, leading them to a remote town where the real Samara’s remains were buried 12-year earlier and another girl went missing thirty years before. Meeting a blind cemetery caretaker named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio), who offers his help, they struggle to find a way free before it’s too late.
Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez, Rings is less of a continuation of the horror franchise, which began with the Japanese original Ringu in 1998 and the American re-make in 2000 starring Naomi Watts, than an update. Like the previous films, it centers on a plucky girl who is less willing to accept their fate and become investigators of sorts, with Julia joining forces with Gabriel to unlock the keys to the horror. Somehow transferring the tape to a USB thumb drive, Julia’s edit of the Samara curse is like an extended-cut and so sets up the CSI-esque detective angle that has them deciding to do a little ghostbusting of their own.
While admittedly there is some intrigue in tracking down Samara, the filmmakers simply don’t use this element to any advantage, rehashing old tricks and piling on familiar tropes in padding out the paper thin plot as best they can, clearly afraid to move the franchise into any kind of new direction. Certainly, films in this genre aren’t exactly known for their high level of acting, but Rings is particularly unstable, with both Galecki and D’Onofrio putting in their paycheck’s worth while others lack any sense of investment, reading lines with no urgency at all. That’s partly the fault of the screenplay that is aggressively expositional, squeezed into a film that works hard to be visually creepy at every chance it can get.
And this is where the film loses all of its traction, stripping away any hope of authenticity, instead creating a strange universe where logic is just about abandoned. The thing is, nothing is all that frightening simply because it’s all been done before, leaving the numerous bits of haunting from Samara flat and ungainly. Yes, there is some disturbing imagery, but it’s retread at best and while Samara has always been a decent ghost killer in films, she’s rarely given any real chance to be anything more than just a creepy girl with an agenda. Naturally, the film’s conclusion is contrived to set up a whole new chapter in the story as Samara goes online, and somehow, the larger this story gets, the less interesting it becomes.
Rings is a wasted effort that exists purely for the sake of a studio looking to milk a name. While some might find curiosity in what Samara is up to now, most will be wholly disappointed. Tepid and poorly-made, this is one horror film that should quickly find its way back to the bottom of the well.
Movie description: Rings is a 2017 horror film and third in the franchise about a haunted video tape that after you watch it kills you seven days after.
Director(s): F. Javier Gutiérrez
Actor(s): Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki