Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck David Willis, Patrick R. Walker, Zach Roerig. Laura Wiggins, Lizzie Brocheré, Randall Taylor | Written by David Loucks, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman | Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez
First you watch it, then you die. Except in this case, it’s been a good ten years since vengeful VHS spirit Samara last got to kill anyone, her career floundering to a halt after the dull and unsuccessful The Ring 2. No-one did watch, and so Samara pretty much died with it.
You can’t keep a good horror icon down though, and America’s version of Sadako returns in Rings, bringing with her a remake of her own movie. It’s the new version of her haunted videotape which drives this belated sequel, sending doomed young romantic Skye on a quest to Samara’s hometown, where she hopes to bring the angry spirit some peace.
A lot has changed since 2005 (by which time VHS was already outdated as hell, and clogging up charity shops around the world), not least the ease of video sharing and streaming, and the omnipresence of smartphones. In theory, this should give any sequel to The Ring plenty to play with. Opening with a massively ambitious set-piece upon an aeroplane, Rings looks set to take that promise and run with it. Could this be the first truly modern American Ring movie?
Well, no. Even that fabulously promising opening is fumbled, barely showing anything more than the trailer did, with some black goo, a glimpse of Samara and an off-screen plane crash. Worse, it only (very) tangentially relates to the story at hand, cutting straight to a second (and much more effective) prologue with Leonard from The Big Bang Theory (!)
Still, the first half of Rings is where the story is at its most engaging. There’s the (admittedly wasted) aeroplane opening, Professor Leonard’s first encounter with the haunted tape, and his weird but fascinating club built around furthering the curse and its mythology. When dim boyfriend Holt is drawn into the Professor’s web, Skye watches the video herself… but something is different this time. This one won’t just copy and paste (about the extent of the technological advances on display here). And so Skye heads off on the trail of the tape, in search of answers.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, there’s more of Samara’s tragic upbringing to be raked over, assisted by a slumming it (but welcome) Vincent D’Onofrio, and another chapter to Samara’s miserable life story. While her Japanese counterpart Sadako is busy battling The Grudge’s Kayako in the bizarre (but so preferable) Sadako vs Kayako, poor Samara remains stuck in the same old rut, waiting for someone to hurry up and unearth the dark secrets Naomi Watts didn’t get around to all the way back in 2002.
Director F. Javier Gutiérrez does a tremendous job with the atmosphere and visuals, but the screenplay (astonishingly credited to three writers) and story (two) is atrocious, packed full of people who neither speak or act anything like believable human beings. Its bumbling idiot leads are particularly insufferable, whether it be pining, sulking or dropping wretchedly on-the-nose Orpheus and Eurydice references. What we do get to see of Samara is almost worth the wait though, utilising flatscreen TVs and mobile phones to decent effect; somehow very reminiscent of a Final Destination movie.
But the film is far more interested in its dull, predictable ‘mystery’ than it should be, and vastly overestimates how invested the audience is. What should have been a breath of new life to an ailing franchise could prove to be its death rattle. Ultimately, Rings fails to do anything new, interesting or relevant with its concept, instead running around in circles with a tired old story, never really going anywhere.