Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D'Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan
MPAA Rating: (for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 2/3/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 3, 2017
If you were wondering how a movie series about a killer VHS tape would transition from the analog age to the digital age, keep wondering. Rings, which is set in a modern era when VCRs are curios at the local flea market, barely knows how to handle the series' established mythology, let alone coming up with any ideas about how to modernize it.
This is a movie in which every character has a smartphone, although no one seems to use it for any purpose other than as a phone or as a flashlight. The movie cheats on that second one, because, as you know, horror movies like to keep their characters in the dark, especially when there's absolutely no reason that they should be. There's a scene here in which a character crawls inside a dark tomb in order to see some writing within it. After the chamber closes behind her, that's when she decides to use the flashlight on her cellphone. When dealing with this kind of inconsistency, it's probably too much to ask that a movie rethink its predecessors' notion of a viral video in a world that has been undergoing an internet video epidemic for years.
Yes, more than a decade after the original—meaning, the American remake—The Ring, people are still sharing the killer video tape. The movie opens with an isolated prologue about a guy on an airplane who starts chatting up a fellow, female passenger by telling her how he might die in five minutes, because, seven days ago, he watched a video tape that a girl he met at a party sent him. It's a pretty blatant example of forced exposition, which might explain why the scene ends in chaos, without offering any resolution.
The point of the scene, of course, is to serve as a refresher for those who may have forgotten the specifics of the gimmick, as well as a fast-and-cheap introduction for those who are coming into this now-restarted series cold. The screenplay (written by David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and Akiva Goldsman) never quite figures out if it's a direct sequel or a movie that's setting off into its own territory.
It never fully explains the back story—of a how the ghost of a murdered young girl haunted a video tape—because it expects that the audience knows that story by now. It's also a bit hazy on the new details that emerge about that girl and her family. The combination makes this a pretty transparent way for the movie to replicate the motions of its predecessors again, under the guise that, hey, this is telling a new story—even though it clearly isn't.
The plot itself revolves around Julia (Matilda Lutz), a recent high school graduate whose boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) is heading off to college (She needs to stay at home to care for a mother who's mentioned once and never seen or mentioned again). Holt ends up part of a weird experiment with Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), his biology professor, who finds the killer tape in a VCR at a flea market (It belonged to the guy from the opening, who died when that plane crashed). Gabriel spouts some nonsense about believing the tape might hold the secret to life after death, although that seems to be a pretty big leap to make, considering the ticking-clock promise of doom that the tape possesses.
Speaking of that ticking-clock element, the movie makes a big deal of it at the start, but as soon as Julia watches the tape to save her boyfriend (Remember: To evade death, one has to make a copy and get someone else to watch it), that concern disappears. The movie forgets that the actual tension of this setup is its inevitability. Julia doesn't keep track of the time that she has left (neither does her allegedly protective boyfriend), and let's face it, it's not as if anyone in the audience has any reason to, either. Julia gets to go through the old motions of discovering the secret history of Samara (Bonnie Morgan), the girl who became the ghost that haunted the tape (This entry looks into the girl's parentage but glosses over the ugly specifics—not to mention that we already know how playing along with Samara's game goes). She does so while director F. Javier Gutiérrez goes through the motions of jump-scares and a string of creepy, real-seeming things being part of Samara's visions.
We've gone through this before, and Rings doesn't even try to give us anything different. It's the same old story, and because the filmmakers can't even be bothered to acknowledge the advances in technology since that story was first told, it feels old, too.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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