Of all the movie genres, horror is probably the most dynamic. Sure, certain franchises may get milked to death, but before they reach that point, there are always surprises. Low budget sleeper hits come out of nowhere every single year, whether they are indie efforts or studio funded. Standouts in very recent years have included The Babadook, Sinister, The Witch, Lights Out and Don’t Breathe. There are many clichés to be overcome, but there are also a lot of fresh new ideas and exciting executions. Which makes brand new release Rings such a massive disappointment.
It’s been 15 years since the release of the American version of The Ring (based on Japan’s Ringu). The Ring’s 2005 sequel was mediocre, but the first movie ushered in a new approach to horror. Hollywood realised there was a market for quiet, atmospheric films that took their time to build a sense of dread. Horror movies could be a largely gore-free PG-13 but still set you quivering. Also, contorting women with bone-white skin and long black hair make pretty nifty villains.
Here’s the thing though: Horror has moved on since 2002. Rings hasn’t at all. It feels like you’re back in the first half of the Noughties. It’s stale, boring and not the least bit scary. If you want to watch a proper spiritual successor to The Ring, seek out It Follows instead. That is the evolved form of this type of supernatural psychological horror film, where characters are trying to out-manoeuvre a relentless, deadly and completely incomprehensible force.
Rings is a wasted opportunity. In the movie’s first Act, the audience and young heroine Julia (newcomer Matilda Lutz) learn that Johnny Galecki’s university professor has created an experiment out of viewing the cursed video tape. In keeping with franchise lore, if you watch the footage, you have seven days to make a copy and show it to someone. If you don’t, vengeful spirit Samara will pop out the nearest screen and scare you to death. Literally.
Transplanting the curse to an academic setting has potential, but it’s not really explored. Neither is the golden opportunity presented by our changed style of video-sharing thanks to the Internet and social media. What would happen if the video was uploaded to YouTube, for example? That’s veering the film series in a fresh direction. But nope. Instead of attempting something new, Julia and her bland hunk of a boyfriend, Hoyt (Alex Roe), head off to a dying town to basically retread the plot of the first movie.
Perhaps all the repetition is due to the makers of Rings trying to accommodate viewers who haven’t seen the first two movies. It’s been 15 years after all. However, Rings is a poor imitation. The Ring was well-acted and featured moody, memorable cinematography. There is nothing striking about Rings, except for the moments it weakly copies (whether intentional or not) other better films in the genre.
Ultimately, Rings feels like a horror movie for someone who hasn’t watched this style of horror film before. It’s for people who are still creeped out by imagery you might find in a goth high schooler’s multimedia art project. It’s for people who recoil at the sight of crawling insects. And it’s for people who need the heroine to vocalize the solution to the film’s big mystery if they are to have any chance of understanding it.
Rack this one up as another tepid, too-late sequel.