Rings is one of the darkest movies in recent years. That’s not necessarily a comment on the subject matter of the film, but the sheer look of it: this movie is so murky that it’s often hard to see what’s happening, and even the few scenes that seem to be playing in daylight have this layer of grime over them, as if someone dropped the film in a puddle of muddy water. After an hour, you’re ready to scream at the screen for someone to turn on a lamp, or even light a match.
Using overly dark cinematography to create an atmosphere that isn’t there is just one of the many cliches deployed in this film, which is the second sequel to the 2002 American film, The Ring. And like its immediate predecessor, Rings is in no danger of gaining the now legendary status of that first U.S. effort from Gore Verbinski. Indeed, this third film is not a reboot, but it often acts like one at times, going back over the same ground that has been covered in the previous movies with nothing new to add except a plot point seemingly lifted from another once-successful horror movie series.
In case you need a refresher, The Ring mythology is based around a haunted videotape featuring a series of unsettling images: watch it and you die seven days later, victim of the malevolent spirit that generated the tape — a young girl named Samara — unless you copy it, and pass the copy to someone else to watch. The movie opens with one unlucky viewer who finds himself on a plane when the curse kicks in. Two years later, the VCR that belonged to the late fellow (and how quaint that someone still owned a VCR) finds itself in a flea market where college professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) picks it up and discovers the tape still inside.
Naturally he watches it and is soon getting some of his students to view it too, including freshman Holt (Alex Roe). When Holt goes into hiding, his concerned girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) drives to the school and soon finds out that Holt is doomed. She heroically watches the tape herself as a means to save Holt, only to learn that she sees different images than the others. That leads her and Holt on a road trip to learn more about Samara and find a way to stop the curse.
The latest addition to this weary mythology is that Julia can see images on the tape that seemingly predict the future, which consists mainly of “accidents” that lead to people’s deaths. In other words, director F. Javier Gutierrez (who made the much more interesting Before the Fall) and a trio of screenwriters (David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and the dreaded Akiva Goldsman) have come up with the clever idea of grafting aspects of Final Destination onto the Ring canon. But it doesn’t do anything except create some artificial shocks to goose the otherwise needlessly convoluted storyline (there are also jump scares aplenty to wake you up from time to time).
Lutz, making her American film debut, and Roe are the kind of bland 20-something leads that populate so many modern studio horror films: they go through their paces like automatons with Lutz being especially flat. Galecki seems like he’s just waiting for the check to clear, and even an appearance by Vincent D’Onofrio late in the game doesn’t do much to add energy to the proceedings (when you can see him clearly, that is). The one potentially interesting idea expressed here — about the ease with which the original videotape can be transferred to modern technology like phones or USB sticks — is raised and then abandoned.
The original Ring novels written by Koji Suzuki took the story into some weird, inventive directions (having to do with simulated realities) and indeed, when the first Japanese movie surfaced on the international scene, it was hailed as something fresh and new in the horror genre, sparking off the J-horror (and subsequently K-horror) craze. Even the first American adaptation was hailed for successfully transplanting the story to these shores. But 2005’s The Ring 2 was dull and nonsensical, and Rings sadly follows that pattern, endlessly rehashing the same old story about Samara’s thirst for vengeance and sordid family history while serving up increasingly forgettable characters and situations. Even as it leaves room for a sequel, Rings lives up to its title by chasing its own tail.
Rings is out in theaters now.