Running time 1hr 47mins
NO horror film of the last 20 years has been mocked, imitated and bastardised to such a degree as Gore Verbinski’s The Ring; it’s a curse that just won’t die (to say nothing of the original, superior Japanese movie). With hindsight, it’s easy to forget the film’s impact – it’s simple, chilling premise (a haunted videotape that will kill the viewer within a week of watching it) channelled the fears and mythology of the pre-iPhone age. Though time has, naturally, diminished its power, its 115 minutes are not without memorable images (ghost-girl Samara’s all-fours crawl out of Martin Henderson’s television set remains, in spite of the endless parodies, positively frightening), and it’s a cut above most other chillers of the epoch in every conceivable way.
Picking up its mantle a decade later, Rings takes the raw techno-terror of its predecessor and, initially, endeavours to doll it up in 2017 DayGlo. Matilda Lutz and her homesick boyfriend (Alex Roe) – without a doubt the blandest movie couple of the year so far – communicate via FaceTime; Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), the movie’s twist on the ‘all-knowing college professor’ trope, is neither old nor particularly wise (as a matter of fact, he’s irritating in a yuppyish, slick-haired sort-of-way). The latter, having discovered the evil tape, has made a bizarre social experiment of it, encouraging his students to share it among themselves over social media. The game, of course, goes horribly wrong… and then it’s back to Moesko Island, a township every bit as comically ramshackle as the last time we visited it, to plumb the mysteries of Samara Morgan once again.
And that’s the problem – Rings doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and it’s hopelessly reliant upon those elements of the first film that no longer work. Early on, a Final Destination-esque disaster sequence sets us up for a right-on ‘modern’ reboot; while a nice idea (Samara takes over an airplane), it’s handled with exceptional clumsiness, and is the furthest thing from the tense domesticity that made The Ring so watchable. No amount of zeitgeist-plugging (and Rings, frankly, doesn’t even try that hard) was ever going to make up for engaging storytelling – the characters here are so underdeveloped as to have been written by a Red Bull-addled tweenager. The Ring, which already had a solid foundation in an established J-Horror franchise, didn’t have much to live up to in this regard; the sequel fails early on to find its own niche, and it’s not long before the whole thing descends into a meandering mess. The first kill scene, featuring an unfortunate student (Aimee Teegarden) of Gabriel’s, is a virtual remake of its precursor’s aforementioned, most infamous, set-piece.
The extensive lore underpinning the Ring movies has, at this stage, become a burden – Samara made for such a creepy nemesis quite precisely because she was unknowable, unstoppable, and a third sequel (if one was really due) should have just fallen back on this simple, kinetic quality, allowing the story to tell itself. Instead, we get a dull, overlong quest that the audience won’t care to follow; ream upon ream of backstory all but blunts the uninspired ‘scares’. The closer is, to the film’s credit,
gleefully revolting, but you’ll have given up by then.
Around Rings’ midpoint, Vincent D’Onofrio’s blind priest informs us that Samara “isn’t worth being
curious about”. How apt.