“Rings” has so much creativity bursting at the seams that it’s a crying shame it’s all pushed aside in favor of cheap jump scares and a bland investigation into Samara’s past. So many opportunities to breathe new life into the dormant series were erroneously ignored, existing solely as MacGuffins to get the protagonists back to Samara’s hometown. The revelations are so painfully obvious that it sucks the mystique out of the exploration. It’s astounding that it took three writers to concoct the screenplay (David Loucka, Jacob Estes, & Akiva Goldsman)! I suspect one or more are responsible for heavy rewrites, which wash away the fleeting moments of inspiration sprinkled throughout the overall hollow experience.
The angle of a college professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), dissecting the tape for scientific research into the afterlife is rich with potential, but never explored. It gives way to a cult of sorts that studies the tape religiously, cooking up books filled with theories and drawings. That too is never explored, acting as a MacGuffin for Holt (Alex Roe) to discover the deadly tape, eventually dragging his girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Lutz), into the mix. The two embark on a journey to her hometown to put an end to the torment once and for all. The journey is as electric as their chemistry i.e. there’s no spark.
Before the couple descend upon the town, one more intriguing angle is teased, as if taunting me. The curse of the videotape, in that it kills the viewer seven days after viewing, can be beaten by passing it on to another poor soul (referred to as a tail). This is what allows the cult to analyze the curse thoroughly, as they all pass it on to one another for examination. I presume they can’t pass it back to a former victim, but can’t say for sure given it’s never explored (a running theme). This angle exists solely to act as a brief social commentary on playing God, with the courageous Julia saving her boyfriend from death and refusing to pass the curse on. Not that this matters, given the tape is recreated to deposit visions to her acting as clues to Samara’s past. Therefore, she couldn’t pass it on even if she wanted to, deeming this scenario pointless. Wonderful!
What we’re left with is a lame investigation into the origins of Samara that does more harm than good. It’s been argued for decades that the less one knows about the evil, the better. The terror develops from the mystery, causing both the characters and viewers to be stricken with paranoia. By revealing so much, the terror dissipates. It’s a slippery slope that can be tackled gracefully…which isn’t the case with “Rings.” F. Javier Gutiérrez’s direction is so flat and uninspired that any startling accusations about Samara’s troubled past comes across as benign. An encounter with a villain from her past proves to be weightless.
In the interest of fairness, Gutiérrez was backed into a corner. As fascinated as I was by the cult theories, they admittedly feed into the investigation. Julia & Holt would be fools not to take the research and dive into the madness in search of answers. It’s unavoidable. That doesn’t excuse the monotonous direction that is plagued by sluggish pacing. Nor does it excuse the desires of the director and/or screenwriters to reveal so much, leaving nothing to be desired by myself. With all the facts unfolding, I grew bored with the thrills as they became nonexistent. If anything, I started to sympathize with Samara, a red flag for any horror film. The second I sympathize with the villain, all suspense is lost. I feel for them, not fear them.
Even the doldrums of the investigation present a few glimmers of hope. Julia begins having erratic visions, tricking her into thinking she’s being sucked into the afterlife. One vision includes her believing she’s trapped in Samara’s grave, being drug into the well in which has entrapped the supernatural being. Maybe it’s my claustrophobia speaking, but that was a harrowing sequence! One could argue the visions act as a copout, but they do play into the hunt seamlessly. Then there’s the argument that the hunt is frivolous and lacks intrigue, which I’d be inclined to agree with. At least I got one good scare in the process.
What hurts the visions is a mixture of finiteness and lack of impact. They are posited as emotionally draining on Julia, but that’s not evident in Matilda Lutz’s performance. Not once does she feel bogged down by the severity of her situation. It is not a fault of the actress, but the flimsy direction and boorish script that leaves her hung out to dry. This is the kind of film that positions its heroine as headstrong by having her boyfriend expel the mythology of Orpheus, who traveled through Hell to save the woman he loved, for her to question why it was the man saving the woman. It is meant to be clever foreshadowing, considering she saves him, but is as subtle as a jackhammer. This bravery is so forced that it robs her of empathy seeing as how she’s not victimized by the ordeal. Contrast it with Johnny Galecki’s performance as Gabriel, portraying the professor as haggard and worn out from the experience.
“Rings” is a woefully misguided effort that neglects its own ambition. I’m not sure who to blame: the director, the writers, or possibly studio interference. Whomever decided it was a good idea to go forward with a vacuous investigation is to blame. Probably the same bonehead who decided it was a wise idea to give away the final twist (an admittedly neat one) on the promotional poster.
At least it’s better than “The Ring Two.”
Final Rating: C-