2017’s Rings is to 2002’s The Ring as a Smashburger is to a steak from Peter Luger’s in New York City. The absolute horror of the tightly-wound, dread-filled 2002 US remake of a 1998 Japanese horror film has been squeezed out of it, presenting only a crude imitation of the original with zero flavor or thrilling experience. The fault lies in a complete tone reversal from what came before, as the film sacrifices moody atmosphere and genuine frights in favor of what director F. Javier Gutiérrez thinks is a good spook story. Rings ends up being a vision of what might have been if Michael Bay directed it.
It’s as scattered as the spread pattern of a round of buckshot out of a sawed-off shotgun, with plot and focus jumping all over the place from set piece to set piece. Gutiérrez doesn’t want to stay too long in any spot, as if lingering will unravel the film’s oft-tenuous, wispy strands of whatever kind of logic the hackneyed script by David Loucka and Jacob Estes – with a reported final pass by noted scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman – tries to hold together.
I’ll give them this – they attempt a sort-of decent opening aboard an airplane, which gives Ring franchise villain Samara Morgan (stuntwoman and contortionist Bonnie Morgan, played in flashbacks by Daveigh Chase) a chance to appear in some fairly clever places. However, the ingenuity of this location is nullified by ridiculous bombast, exactly what the first two films avoided so fervently. If Gutiérrez wanted to foreshadow the type of hammily overt, stultifyingly banal film which follows this prologue, it should be instantly noted that any possible low-keyness has been thrown out the window because SAMARA’S ON A PLANE.
We’re no longer in an analog, VCR-driven world; Samara’s tape – the one, if viewed, will lead to the viewer’s death in exactly seven days unless a copy is made and watched by another – has been digitized and gets researched at a university. Of course, a weird cult has sprung up around this “phenomenon,” and innocent Julia (Matilda Lutz) gets caught up in her boyfriend Holt’s (Alex Roe) participation in one of his professor’s experiments with the tape. Suddenly gifted with a new version of the tape, Julia leads a dire investigation to try to stop the clock on what could be her final seven days.
Rings could have been, at best, a little bit better than a half-baked sequel had it not felt like a fraying patchwork of scenes thrown together in hopes that the film makes sense. At its best as it stands, it can’t even compete with I Know What You Did Last Summer, which Rings feels more attached to than being a part of the Ring franchise.
The trouble starts with what the screenwriters seem to have flung to a wall, shoddily crafting a screenplay with whatever may have stuck. Rings is lacking any ounce of a brain, making the characters – especially the horribly-written Julia – jump through hoops to save each other from Samara. Once this improbable “new version” of the tape is introduced, we’re suddenly diverted from simply passing copies around and onto some jumped-up, flitting escapade which tries so hard to hold your attention.
Unfortunately, some truly bad acting on all fronts channels attentions elsewhere. Horror movies live and die by the actors’ ability to sell the product, and none of them – not even the magnetic Vincent D’Onofrio in a role totally beneath him – have sold me on it. Instead, the actors deliver minimally adequate line readings – not acting – that wouldn’t be welcome in a Sharknado movie. I wonder how Paramount Pictures saw Rings as fit for release, as the choices Gutiérrez makes fail to elicit any positive reaction.
Atmosphere? It’s gone. Save for mimicking the blue-green tint of the first film, there’s no mood, nothing to make the viewer want to stay rooted in the unfolding mystery. Like most modern-day horror films, there’s too much going on and too little time spent stewing in the film’s silences and spaces. Expositional dialogue after expositional dialogue jabbers at us to the point where we’re not enjoying the film anymore; we’re just waiting for the next jump scare or superficial twist to happen. When all you have is jump scares without any meaningful force behind them, you’re not watching a horror movie – you’re just in a carnival haunted house you’ll forget as soon as you’ve walked out the door.