UK Release Date: 3rd February 2017
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: F Javier Gutiérrez
Writer: David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan
Synopsis: A woman is driven to explore the backstory of evil spirit Samara when she becomes embroiled in a strange college society run by a professor determined to understand the psychology behind the Samara tape and story.
There was a time in the noughties where J-horror was huge, by which I mean American remakes of J-horror were huge. From The Grudge to Dark Water, adaptations of Japanese scary movies were everywhere, but perhaps the biggest name of them all was Gore Verbinski‘s The Ring, which spawned a sequel in 2005. More than a decade later, that franchise – and its spooky videotape-dwelling ghoul Samara – is back with a vengeance as Rings aims to fill multiplexes with the sound of screaming. Unfortunately, if you hear anything at all when walking past the screening room, it’s likely to be the sound of shrugging shoulders, fidgeting bodies and the occasional stifled yawn.
Julia (Matilda Lutz) stays home as her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) drives off to college and he soon begins missing their scheduled daily Skype chats. When worried Julia travels to track him down, she meets enigmatic lecturer Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), who has a fascination with Samara and her cursed video footage. It soon transpires Holt is part of a group who have watched the video and passed it on, negating the curse. However, Julia soon watches the clip and, without anyone to pass the curse to, the couple are forced to travel to where it all began and, with the help of mysterious blind man Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio), unpick the mythology.
Rings has faced something of a troubled path to the big screen, hitting several major bumps in the road. The film was shot in March 2015 and entered post-production in June of that year, only to undergo reshoots a year later and then experience some shunting around the release calendar by studio Paramount. That trouble is spelled out very clearly in the finished film, which is something of a confused mess that only serves to prove how incompatible Samara and her curse are with the modern landscape. The character and her appeal are so wedded to the analogue age that they do not fit into the era of smartphones and social media, no matter how hard the script seems to want to try.
The central problem here is that there are at least two or three films battling to emerge from the script, which seems to have more different personalities than James McAvoy in Split. There’s a gem of an interesting idea, focused on Galecki’s bizarrely enigmatic professor, but that is quickly discarded in favour of the tired trope of explaining the horror away with endless spoonfuls of exposition and back story. No narrative stone is left unturned, revealing everything and refusing to leave even a touch of mystery behind.
The whole thing is not helped by the pitiful central performances. Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe could have fallen off a production line of attractive leading couples for horror movies and Galecki has absolutely no idea where to pitch his character, not to mention that his ubiquity in The Big Bang Theory makes his appearance inherently distracting. And that’s before we even get to Vincent D’Onofrio, who is a long way from his work as one of Hollywood’s finest character actors.
Rings is a drab horror journey in which even the cattle prod jolts are more a case of just keeping the audience awake than actually scaring them. It all culminates with a final plot twist that rejigs the franchise a little and might have been an interesting touch – had it not been spoiled in every single trailer for the film. Welcome to horror cinema in 2017.
Pop or Poop?
The decision to bring back the Ring franchise is an entirely understandable one, but Paramount had a long time to get Rings right and he has failed completely. The story is a pedestrian trudge entirely free of chills and the final moments were so heavily trailed that they do not surprise. Distracting A-list cameos are not enough to prop up the poor leading turns and it’s all more than a little bit muddled.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.