Rings

US (2017) Dir. F. Javier Gutiérrez

There is an old aphorism that states “it seemed like a good idea at the time”; there are also scenarios that are just plain bad ideas at any time. Paramount deciding to resurrect its remake franchise of the classic Japanese horror Ringu with a new 3D instalment was a bad idea, and even the release of the newly re-titled Rings being delayed by two years still didn’t make it any better.

Rings begins in 2013 when a young man onboard an airplane get nervous as the landing procedure begins, explaining how he watched a cursed video a week earlier and had five minutes left before he died. Things start to get weird on the plane, a ghostly figure pops out of the in-seat TV screen and the plane goes into a tailspin.

Two years later, college professor Gabriel Brown (Johnny Galecki) buys a second-hand video player with a tape already in it, recognising the contents as the famed Samara Morgan cursed video. Meanwhile, Holt Anthony (Alex Roe) is off to college leaving his girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) behind, although they stay in touch via Skype.

After a few weeks, Holt stops responding to Julia’s calls and messages until one night, she gets a Skype call on Holt’s line from a frantic girl screaming “She’s coming!”. Julia heads off to the college to find Holt, but instead finds herself victim to the cursed video, forcing her to solve the mystery of the curse.

Whilst many hailed 2002’s The Ring as a rare successful Hollywood remake of a foreign language film, its 2004 sequel fared less better. Perhaps Paramount hoped time would have been kind to The Ring franchise and maybe get some new fans too, which might have worked if it hadn’t been usurped by imitators like Final Destination and Paranormal Activity and the diminishing returns of its sequels putting people off horror series.

Narrowing down why Rings doesn’t work is an arduous task since it is flawed in so many ways. The script is lacking in focus and coherence, the characters have no depth, and frankly, it isn’t very scary. From the start we find ourselves thinking “huh?” because the three writers seem to have left logic off the agenda when concocting these ideas, whilst in other circumstances it is the lack of basic exposition that baffles us.

For instance, why was Julia left behind as Holt goes to college? Where are her family and friends that Holt is the only person in her life that she has literally nothing to do but wait for his Skype calls? Why would Gabriel want a VCR in 2015? For that matter, why, on the airplane when the guy told the story of the tape to the teen girl next to him, didn’t she ask “What’s a VCR?”.

The airplane scene alone is bizarre enough as the lad is only one cursed and yet every monitor on the plane, be it a TV screen or a display in the cockpit, is possessed by the video – at 30,000 feet in the air – and nobody else notices? And why would Samara kill everyone when she is meant to claim just the one person who saw the clip?

Unfortunately, this is not the last timer questions will be asked so suspension of disbelief is integral – nay vital – to sitting through the remainder of the film. To be fair, they do come up with a nifty way to modernise spreading the course as Gabriel digitises the clip then, in a secret experiment designed to explore fear and the human condition, creates a group of volunteers to watch the clip then share it with someone else in the final minutes of the seven day warning period.

As you might have guessed, Holt is one of the volunteers hence his ignoring Julia but she watches the clip out of curiosity, and as the cursed one has to make a copy to pass onto the next person; however Julia’s copied clip has new images that tell a new story about Samara, which she somehow deduces are a message to her personally and inexplicably leads to Julia figuring out how to end the curse too.

So, she Holt and Gabriel head off to a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere populated by sinister denizens with secrets to hide, all relating to Samara’s death that uncovers another mystery in need of solving. This marks our third switch in plot direction inside an hour ahead of a decidedly anti-climatic climax that borrows heavily from The Ring 2 but still doesn’t make any sense.

Having been bored rigid by a plot that doesn’t know where it is heading, deprived of any scares or sense of impending dread and expected to root for a group of cardboard cut-out characters, it is little wonder Rings has little going for it. Had it stuck with the direction of Gabriel’s experiment, this could have modernised the gimmick for the multi-media generation; we can only surmise the writers had neither the knowledge, imagination of interest to fulfil this task so they relied on past ideas instead.

Annoyingly, female lead Matilda Lutz who was excellent in her next film, Revenge, is relentlessly bland here, so rather than be tempted to write her off based on this performance, see what she is capable of under a director who actually cares. She’s not alone as everyone in the film is flat and vapid in their own way, but you can’t kill everyone off. Then again, the coda suggests that is the idea for the future.

Paramount hinted at continuing the saga based on the box office performance of Rings which thus far has yielded nothing, but this is down to the film itself not being any good rather than a lack of consumer interest – not that the two are always mutually exclusive of course.

Conclusion: either rewatch the first US film or the superior Japanese original, due for a UK Blu-ray re-release very soon…