Directed by: F. Javier Gutierrez | 98 minutes | drama, horror | Actors: Aimee Teegarden, Johnny Galecki, Alex Roe, Vincent D’Onofrio, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck David Willis, Patrick R. Walker, Zach Roerig, Laura Wiggins, Lizzie Brocheré, Randall Taylor, Drew Grey, Kayli Carter , Jill Jane Clements
Horror is subject to inflation. Fifteen years ago we still got chills from ‘The Ring’, a horror film about a cursed videotape. Nowadays you think: been there, done that, seen the sequel. Not to mention the Japanese original and sequel. Still, director F. Javier Gutiérrez is determined to breathe new life into the story. In ‘Rings’ we have to do without Naomi Watts, but the concept remains more or less the same: people watch a videotape with disturbing images. After that, they have seven days to live unless they pass the curse off by copying the tape and showing it to someone else. If this doesn’t work, the long-haired Samara will come to haunt you.
With that video tape, the story actually begins to show its age. Who has a VCR these days? Unless Samara upgrades to Blu-ray or Netflix, the curse is a self-solving problem. In ‘Rings’ the rules have therefore been adjusted: digital copies also do the trick. In the special features, actor Johnny Galecki says that the film provides commentary on social media and viral videos in this way. And that, according to him, makes the story much more interesting and layered. Oh, if only that were true…
‘Rings’ already starts on a sour note. In the opening scene, Samara crashes one Carter’s (Zach Roerig) plane when his seven days are up. Effective, but a bit cheesy for the other passengers. After this event, ‘Rings’ makes a time jump of two years. Biology teacher Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) buys a VCR because of retro. Once belonged to a boy who died in a plane crash. We also follow Holt (Alex Roe) and Julia (Matilda Lutz), two students in love who attend different universities. When Holt is no longer heard from, Julia seeks him out. Julia discovers that Holt is participating in a secret experiment run by his biology teacher, the aforementioned Gabriel. He has his students watch the cursed videotape and charts the process. Something with research into life after death. Warranty up to the door.
When Holt’s ‘tail’ – the person to whom he can transfer the curse – does not show up, Julia decides to see the images herself, because of true love. Now her life is in danger. It soon becomes apparent that Julia’s curse is different from that of the other students. Her copy also appears to contain hidden images about Samara’s past. Julia and Holt decide to follow the directions. Their search leads them to the town of Sacrament Valley and the blind Galen (Vincent D’Onofrio), who tells them that Samara was once buried in the local cemetery. Julia has the idea that the girl will only find peace when her body has been burned. Then her soul can escape and everyone is happy.
But alas, if we’ve learned anything from ‘The Ring’ 1 and 2, it’s that there’s no point in feeling sorry for Samara. A vengeful bastard it is, and thankfully so. The denouement of ‘Rings’ will therefore not come as a surprise to the observant viewer, although the key scene is distasteful. Scary is the film only if you have not seen the previous films. The corpse in the closet in “The Ring” made your popcorn fly, but the twisted faces in “Rings” are more of the same. The film also relies heavily on jump scares, including the now boring ‘truck out of nowhere’.
All this is forgivable, were it not for the fact that Gutiérrez weakens the concept. The more you know about Samara and her family tree, the less scary she becomes. The sugary main characters Holt and Julia are a big step back from the more conflicted Rachel portrayed by Naomi Watts. The mythology of The Ring was already muddled in later films, but here really plays with logic. And while the premise has potential, the plot suffers from lazy thinking.
In America ‘Rings’ did unexpectedly well. Probably horror fans went to the cinema for the same reason hipsters buy a VCR: out of nostalgia. Seems fun, until things get stuck. Then you think: wait a minute, there are better things on the market now.