If there’s one horror franchise that seemed like it would be locked to the late 90’s and early 2000’s, its The Ring. I mean, it’s main villain is a killer that requires a VCR and VHS tape to kill you. That’s why I’ve been interested in Rings since it was announced.
What happens when Samara’s infamous tape gets put onto a flash drive or micro SD card that someone leaves in their 3DS and sells it to GameStop only for a small child to watch by mistake? What about platforms like Instagram video or Snapchat that would cause someone to see at least some of the tape whether they wanted to or not? Well, none of these questions were answered by “Rings,” a dated and formulaic film that’s much more average than it should be.
Rings actually has a pretty promising start. The intro scene which takes place on a plane sets up a death that should be terrifying and perfect. A kid who watched the tape put an entire plane’s worth of people in jeopardy by boarding a flight on the tail-end of his seventh day to live. There’s turbulence, creepy imagery of Samara and even a character who knows about the tape that as far as I could tell we never see again in the film. As soon as the tension comes to a head, though water pours out of the bathroom and the film cuts to the title.
After that we’re introduced to Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a douchey professor picking through old knick knacks at a garage sale when he stumbles across an old VCR. He waxes poetic about how revolutionary VCR’s were to the grad student of his he’s sleeping with and takes the relic home. Of course, Samara’s tape is inside and he watches it. This is when we’re introduced to the film’s two main characters – Julia (Matilda Lutz) and her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe). Holt is heading off to school and Julia is staying behind to help her presumably sick mother out around the house. After a while, Holt disappears and Julia decides to go see what’s up at his college.
One night while Julia and Holt are Skyping, his friends take him away and cut the call short. Julia doesn’t hear from Holt for a few days after that, so she decides to go see him. It turns out that Gabriel thinks Samara’s tape is the key to the afterlife, so in a twist reminiscent of the amazing short film of the same title, he secretly recruits students to watch the tape, document their experiences and then copy it and show it to their ‘tail’ to save themselves. Things obviously go downhill from there.
Rings‘ biggest problem is caused by a combination of its poorly written dialog, and its main actress. Matilda Lutz is Italian, and she struggles to decide whether or not she’s going to attempt an American accent between scenes which is distracting in itself, but gets downright irritating when the dialog she’s being forced to speak falls along the lines of “I have to see this through.” Her character is also written to have literally zero sense of self-preservation oftentimes running head first into Samara’s demonic traps. I found myself alternating between saying “Nobody would ever do that.” and “Nobody would ever say that.” and it really took me out of the plot.
The most frustrating thing about Rings was how close it got to doing something interesting with the idea that the tape can be copied and showed to other people via Mac computer and flash drive. There were so many opportunities for the film to show what happens when people on a mass scale watch the tape, but it remained annoyingly intent on following a nearly identical plot to both The Ring and The Ring 2.
One thing that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout the entire film was the camerawork. There are some truly beautiful shots in the film, and from what I can tell most of the effects are practical so it was enjoyable to see where Julia and Holt would go next. Vincent D’Onofrio manages to avoid being the character who reveals all to the heroes for no reason, and one scene reminiscent of last summer’s Don’t Breathe in his home which I won’t spoil was particularly frightening.
Even though the plot is mostly a retread of past films, there is some serious lore-building going on for the character Samara. Every tidbit of information the audience is fed throughout the film was the perfect mix of sad, emotional and disturbing that I think this franchise has always excelled with. There’s no horse jumping off a ship scene in Rings but when Samara rears her digital head, she does a good job at generating some nail-biting moments. That’s why it’s unforunate that Samara is barely in the film. There’s only three kills in Rings and they’re all identical to each other which I guess is a problem the series has always had since Samara isn’t very inventive with how she does viewers in.
There’s something to be said about how low expectations can influence the way you feel about a piece of media. Take Rings for example, a film that I was sure after getting delayed and sent back for reshoots would turn out to be anything more than a dated, incoherent mess. After sitting on my thoughts about it, though I have to say it turned out much better than I was anticipating, even if it has huge flaws. As I said before, the camerawork rarely failed to impress, and even though the plot didn’t go in the bold direction that it could and probably should have, I never wanted to stop watching. There’s definitely enough to love about Rings that makes it worth watching for diehard fans of The Ring franchise, but it’s far and away from the surprise gem we got last January with The Boy.