Written by: Cody Hiner
The original film “The Ring” was a landmark for modern horror, for better or for worse. There has been a considerable gap between Ring sequels, and something seems to have been lost in that time. I’ve got plenty of things I liked and disliked about it, so we’ll touch on the negative first, as I don’t want to give the impression that I absolutely hated it, and we’ll end the review on some positive notes.
I’ll lead by saying I was genuinely excited to return to the realm of The Ring. Samara has been a horror icon since the original movie and its sequel. I appreciated the hell out of The Ring and it’s companion in a way, The Grudge. I don’t consider them to be fantastic movies, but they were of such a different style than I was used to seeing at the time of their release that they’ve been some of the larger names, though certainly mainstream, when talking about horror since 2000. Rings begins our new adventure with an absurd intro that immediately breaks the rules of the franchise. We’ve been consistently told through the previous two films that if you watch the film, you will die in seven days. We’re given a swift recap of this between two throwaway characters on a plane, and things very quickly get worse and worse. The introduction ends with all of the TV screens on the backs of the seats showing the VHS tape, and Samara emerging from the control panel in the cockpit, which leads to the plane going down. This is the first example, and frustratingly not the only example, of people dying who have not watched the tape. I might be stuck on what could seem like a minor point to some, but to me this is a big deal. Throughout the film we have several people who Samara kills who haven’t seen the tape we’ve all been warned about. With this decision, the threat of the tape itself and in effect Samara as a villain with defined limits, have been completely discarded.
Another bone I have to pick with this iteration is that the protagonist’s journey seems like it advances too easily and has too much help. The pieces of the puzzle seem to fall together extraordinarily easily, and everyone knows some way to help it seems. We are given a completely new narrative, which details the origins of Samara and we are introduced to her mother, and eventually her father. Most of the lore in this film comes from a professor, who leads us to an idea which I both like and can understand, but also seems counter intuitive and a bit too farfetched. Gabriel (played by Johnny Galecki) is a professor of Biology who has an underground secret society of people watching the Ring tape, making copies, and letting him study the effects that happen to them. He’s interested in the idea of a soul living beyond the body, and the curse of Samara and the Ring clearly point towards some type of afterlife or beyond. The thought itself is interesting, and I could understand the curiosity of wanting to explore this concept. The part that loses me, is that an unknown number of college students willing subject themselves to a death tape and nobody has died until halfway through the film.
The last detractor I have is that Rings relies heavily on jump-scares. The cheap tactic of a loud noise and a quick cut to something does not, I repeat, DOES NOT make a movie scary. It’s a jolt to your senses intended to spark a reaction, nothing more. The films tendency to use these pop up effects ad nauseum lead most of the “scares” in this movie to be cheap tricks and loud noises. It’s incredibly difficult to create a genuinely scary movie, and requires a lot of pieces to come together. It’s very easy to create a loud sound and have something pop into the frame, and it’s incredibly lazy horror. I’m not advocating the abandonment of a tool in the horror genre, but it’s so overused and filmmakers are focusing on building up the moments before a jump scare that they’re now practically forecasted. The main character moves slowly and deliberately towards something, the music in the background becomes ominous and slowly crescendos upwards, before the character reaches what we thought would be something scary only to reveal nothing was actually there! Phew, everything is okay now, the music becomes silent. Our character takes a sigh of relief. Then BANG!! Deafening music and a quick camera cut to something. Its weak filmmaking and a quick sensory blast cheaply used to shock people into thinking they’re scared.
A few things are done pretty well, it should be said. The visuals are all solid, though three movies later i’m still struggling to understand how Samara’s curse is focused so much on TV static. The acting is decent, if a bit wooden (here’s looking at you Alex Roe.) I am glad to see some new ideas being thrown into the mix, even if I don’t agree with all of them. We get a whole new narrative and backstory to explore and discover this time around, and the always entertaining Vincent D’Onofrio seems to have fun playing a minor villain. The emergence of a study on Samara and The Ring by a college professor is one of the more interesting details that keep coming back to me. There were several moments throughout that I laughed, and some of the scares are done genuinely well. Special effects are great, for the most part. The scene with Julia crawling into a coffin sized space, to being chained and dragged towards the well was a particularly cool visual effect.
Overall, the newest foray into the realm of The Ring is a mild effort, disappointing in its delivery, but positively interesting in the new themes presented and explored. Rings ends up being a popcorn flick that fails to elevate itself above the original, yet remains just entertaining enough to be worth seeing. I’m rating Rings with a 3 out of 5.