Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Writer: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Producer: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
Stars: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Jill Jane Clements
A college professor’s experiment with a cursed videotape unearths an undiscovered mystery that haunts a young couple.
When I get to a movie after commercial and critical consensus has already certified it a dud, yet my own opinion runs counter to that collective conclusion, I wonder how much the promise of disappointment can be credited for conditioning me to find favor with a film. Had I seen “Rings” without the subterranean expectations warranted by poor box office performance and a 7% Rotten Tomatoes score, perhaps I’d be heaving as much hate as others have.
Instead, I find myself sounding like Krusty the Clown endorsing his eponymous burgers with the noncommittal comment, “I don’t mind the taste!” Because although “Rings” doesn’t deserve a thumb tilted fully upward, it definitely doesn’t come off as the total meltdown those negative numbers set you up for.
Since context might mean something in this case, maybe it merits mention that aside from “Sadako vs. Kayako” (review here), which I found fun, my most recent experience with the series was a “Ringu” 1998 revival screening in 2012. The redundancy of “Rings” can be more of a chore for continuity connoisseurs who stay so far in front of the story it isn’t funny. For me, memories of the previous two American movies are covered in cobwebs, so my interaction with the mythology is much different.
“Rings” starts out well enough. As Samara’s cursed videotape makes its rounds once again, a biology professor concocts a paranormal pyramid scheme to prove the existence of an afterlife. Students participating in his exclusive experiment watch the video and document subsequent supernatural experiences. But when their seven-day death sentences come due, a “tail” watches the tape and takes up the curse, so no one actually dies and the string keeps stretching.
Here is where it gets intriguing. The professor’s students start noticing that the curse is changing. Body brands start appearing earlier in the week. Violent visions become more terrifying. Essentially, it seems Samara realized someone found a way to manipulate her curse and she is pissed about it.
Making a vengeful ghost more dangerously active instead of mostly reactive, and layering a secret society conspiracy over it, is a novel idea to run with. Except what happens next is “Rings” changes direction and starts rocking off the rails.
The professor pretty much becomes inconveniently in the way, and the curse club concept is dropped too, as his student Holt and Holt’s girlfriend Julia dig into a different chapter of Samara’s story. Act two turns into a mystery investigation that stays fascinating for slow suspense fans unfamiliar with the ghost girl’s origins, while franchise faithful are stranded to roll eyes or yawn.
The film’s climax is then sabotaged by clichés. These include nonsensically separating the main duo at a critical juncture, a true identity revelation that won’t surprise anyone, and a “Usual Suspects” ending summarizing initially overlooked clues.
Its first cut completed in 2015, “Rings” went through test screenings, reshoots, and musical chair release dates for nearly two years. It would appear the resulting second guesses culminated in the common curse of too many chefs, writers, and focus groups cooking too long in the kitchen. Because “Rings” is almost on to something and then gets cold feet caught on closing out with unenthusiastic routine.
Conscious of a reported budget in the neighborhood of $35 million, which is at least $20 million too much, I actively looked for where that money might be. One scene sees a toppled utility pole falling on an overturned car leaking gasoline. I felt certain a fiery explosion was imminent. Instead, the downed power line sparks and the driver simulates a seizure. Wherever the cash was spent, it wasn’t on big or bold setups.
Common criticism lobbed against the film concerns what it doesn’t do, namely significantly advance “The Ring’s” fiction into the age of digital technology and viral videos. There are teases of how internet accessibility and computers can alter Samara’s supernatural abilities, though not to the level many desire. As a result, “Rings” feels too much like old hat.
Taken for what it is though, even if ‘it’ is a mediocre mainstream thriller, “Rings” actually isn’t half bad. Maybe only one-third or two-fifths bad. Matilda Lutz plays a nearly nondescript character, though fits fine as a typical horror heroine, even without romantic costar chemistry. Vincent D’Onofrio is barely in the film, but when he is, he’s worth it.
Basically, the first hour of “Rings” sets foot down an interesting path. The commonplace conclusion then twists both ankles and cripples the film’s formerly promising finale.
I maintain that the movie is ‘okay’ depending on what one wants to get out of it. But “Rings” did seal its fate by ballooning its budget past a point of easy profitability and cutting its coherence to ribbons with reedits. What could have been a series rejuvenator will instead be considered a murderer, responsible for killing both “The Ring” and “Friday the 13th” franchises at Paramount, if popular assumption is to be believed. That’s more disappointing than the actual film is.
Review Score: 55