Rings is a bizarre product. I don’t think anyone was really clamouring for a further extension of the Ring’s cinematic universe, with the exception of that Japanese movie where the girl from The Ring fights the boy from The Grudge. That sounds incredible. But here, we already got a sequel to the American remake of The Ring, and it was not a quality product. It was the only time I’ve ever been with a group of people at the theatre and a silent vote was held as to whether or not we were going to leave a half hour in. So Rings did have that working in its favour. It would take actual concentrated effort to make a movie that was worse than the last one. Well congratulations Rings because you somehow pulled that shit off!
2002’s The Ring was one of my favourite horror experiences I’ve had in a theatre. I personally went in with zero expectations so to then be delivered those incredibly tense 2 hours was a treat, and to be surrounded by people who seemed to be having a similar experience only added to the whole thing. You truly could hear a pin drop in the theatre that evening. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hear a pin drop in a theatre showing of Rings on account of most people giving up and leaving or falling asleep.
I think by now everyone knows the overall deal with these movies, even if you’ve never actually sat down to watch one. There’s a creepy video tape. You absolutely should not watch this creepy video tape, but if you do, you are greeted with a bunch of gross and random images of bugs and chairs and wells. Then it’s over and before you can register what any of that was, your phone rings and a girl tells you that you’re going to die in 7 days. Well, she actually just says “7 days” and I guess most people just come to the logical conclusion that their clock is ticking. The only way to save yourself is to make a copy of the tape and pass along the curse. If you don’t, Samara will emerge out of your tv set and…look at you. Then you’re totes dead. The mystery of Samara and the curse felt largely resolved already so the idea they were making a sequel and not a remake was intriguing at the very least. Where was there to go with the story from here? Turns out nowhere. The answer to that question is nowhere.
The commercials and trailers for Rings made a big deal of a set-piece where Samara stalks a guy on a plane and has her video playing on all of the in-seat televisions. This was built up as the big finale so I was surprised, and initially excited, when it was revealed to be the opening scene. If they were confident enough to open with this show stopper then surely they must have some gold tucked away for later! That excitement quickly faded three minutes later when the plane scene concluded and was in no way the large scale set-piece it could have/should have been. The scene moves at a ridiculously brisk pace so there is no time to build up any suspense. Within the first minute, a nameless character has explained the backstory of the cursed tape to a confused stranger, revealed he has 5 minutes left before his week is up, then Samara is after him. It all happens within a few minutes and is far more confusing than it is frightening.
There is a nugget of an interesting idea at the core of Rings. A professor, Gabriel (The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki) is using the cursed video as the basis for a theory that proves the existence of a soul and what happens to us after we die. He has a group of students watch the video as part of an experiment, and then sets-up what he calls a “tail”, which is someone who will then watch the video afterwards to move the curse forward. It’s not made clear if that “tail” continues forever or if a professor plans on presenting scientific findings that involved him being directly responsible for the deaths of students. This subplot is largely put to the side though and the movie quickly becomes a generic race against time to uncover the mystery of the tape when our lead character, Julia, watches it in order to move the curse from her boyfriend.
But what mysteries are there left to solve you ask. I mean, they figured out exactly what the deal with the tape was in the very first movie. All of those images were already explained in detail. Well check this out - there’s a tape within the tape. Tape-ception! Yep, a discovery is made that there are additional images floating around in there and thus, a brand new mystery to solve that involves Samara’s mom, a missing pregnant lady and a blind Vincent D’Onofrio.
The biggest problem with Rings is that the core mystery and all of the steps involved in solving it are boring. This is a boring movie. It’s a horror movie that seems to have very little interest in trying to frighten you. There are some generic jump scares (an early one involving people suddenly appearing in a Skype video chat window is particularly laughable) but very few attempts to ratchet up the tension and anytime it starts to happen, it fizzles out almost immediately. The biggest trick The Ring had up its sleeve was Samara emerging from the television, which was a terrifying image in that first movie. We’ve been there and done that now and any attempt Rings makes to play around with the formula doesn’t make a difference. There is just nothing here that’s engaging to grab on to and not once does Rings justify it’s existence.
I feel a little bad about this piece of criticism but wow, Matilda Lutz is really bad in the lead role of Julia. Born in Italy, she is clearly trying to bury her accent and it makes every piece of dialogue from her sound incredibly stiff and wooden. It never stops being distracting. Alex Roe only fares slightly better as her boyfriend Holt. Though in all fairness, it’s not as though great performances would have elevated that relationship as the characters themselves are completely unremarkable in every single sense of the word.
Rings makes a thorough case that there is absolutely no reason to continue this franchise. Outside of some impressive technical merits (the film at least looks good) there is nothing appealing here. The characters are boring, the wooden performances only elevate that problem, and the plot is a plodding mess. There simply was no reason this movie needed to be made.