Overview: When her boyfriend goes missing at college, a young woman finds out he’s discovered a cursed video tape that kills everyone who views it. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated PG-13; 102 minutes.
Before the Franchise Dies: It doesn’t matter if you have seen The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s 2002 masterpiece American remake of the Japanese classic, or the forgotten 2005 sequel The Ring Two. Rings, the third installment in the series, tells you everything you need to know to keep up really quickly. In its first cold opening (and there are multiple ones), in which a passenger on a plane meets his fabled seventh-day fate in a chapter that is wholly irrelevant to everything that happens thereafter, the script for Rings gets right to the point. It takes two lines of dialogue for this doomed character to explain the premise – there’s a cursed tape, you watch it, you get a phone call, and you die seven days later. And in case you miss it, the premise is repeated two lines later and brushed up a few lines after that. And then demonstrated in a second but at least less useless cold opening. Because that metronome of re-emphasis marks the entire dull point of Rings: “It’s The Ring, continued, but more…”
There’s A Bird This Time: There are times when Director F. Javier Gutiérrez’s film lifts and re-applies footage from Verbinski’s original movie, and frankly, these are the most effective shots in the entire film. Then there are times when the film attempts to expound upon the established mythology, other times when the mythology is muddied and discarded, moments where it’s geo-transplanted into a new Washington setting to permit uncomfortable and disjointed story growth, and times when it’s injected with a new metaphysical, spiritual thematic pulse. The problem is that there’s never any storytelling certainty in the clumsy innovations. When Rings grazes against a top-floor, hipster edge subculture of students who view the tape as an experiment and test of will, seemingly to see how long they can last and what they can discover before copying the tape and showing it to a “tail” participant, thereby saving themselves from death, the film fails to realize that this direction might have been its best hope, and interest in this club is quickly abandoned. This gives way to a loose and sloppy detective story, documenting Julia’s (Matilda Lutz) investigation of the tape, after saving her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) by willfully duplicating his copy and viewing the copy (all of this is predicted by a sloppy conversation the two share regarding the myth of Orpheus in their cold opening).
This Time, Everything Is Less: Lutz does what she can as Naomi Watts’ under-drawn predecessor, but she’s infrequently given any lines that serve up anything except story-moving information. There’s no human element allowed to operate within the structure of the film. “This is where she was buried,” Julia says. “That’s the girl from the video. Her body was moved. You were her father,” over and over, Julia speaks mostly to dictate an exercise that lacks the dread, despair, and mournful helplessness that elevated the original. But the decline comes in more forms than just spoken word.
The tape grows in content and size when Julia copies it for no real reason beyond “Well, it’s a sequel so we need more story.” Cinematographer Sharon Meir’s version of the rain soaked Northwest is far less functional, a dreary and sedative screen saver set to an ambient score and haphazard sound design, the elements building a film that sloppily yields its limp tone and thus holds no control over its atmosphere. And so, from start to finish – a finish that is groan-worthy in its familiarity (Samara is still wicked evil and no one should ever sympathize with her, because, among other reasons, it just leaves us susceptible to more pointless sequels) – every scene is just unbearably boring.
Overall: This trend seems to exist exclusively in movies and predominantly in horror, this strange phenomena in which filmmakers approach classic and near-perfect genre entries and lazily borrow the mythologies to build uncertain and poorly thought expansion packs that really only add asterisks to the original, self-standing brilliance. We saw it last year with Blair Witch, but we saw it decades before with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. But it’s a clear illustration of film commercialism spitting in the face of film artistry and horror culture bounded by its own superficial ambitions. So it’s nothing new, but Rings is now one of the most offensive examples.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures