Considering that the movie has been through four release dates and hinges on dead technology, you’ll likely be incredibly unsurprised to hear that ‘Rings’ isn’t a particularly good film. Matter of fact, it’s a bad one.
You’d think it would be tough to get a new sequel to ‘The Ring’ going these days given that no one has a VCR to watch the haunted videotape and few would answer an unknown phone call to get their death sentence. The folks at Paramount tried anyway and faced an even bigger challenge than those two dated franchise staples. The big problem with bringing back ‘The Ring’ is that the material was summed up pretty gosh darn well the first time and there’s never really been a need for a sequel. The two best movies in this international franchise are the Japanese original and the American remake. While some of the endless series of Japanese sequels had their goofy charms (especially the recent ‘The Ring vs. The Grudge‘ goof), none of them had anywhere to go because the mythology was already wrapped up pretty succinctly the first time. Yet here we are again, and is this story ever strained and desperate.
The movie kicks off with a scene in which the ‘Ring’ video is let loose on a plane, taking over all the TV screens and causing a whole bunch of trouble. Why? Unclear. Probably due to one of the many reshoots that happened in an attempt to make this movie more exciting. We then jump ahead to months later where college professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) picks up an old VCR at a flea market, and it just happens to have the ‘Ring’ tape inside. He watches it and then for some reason starts a club at his college where kids take turns watching the tape and then sending it to someone else before they die. It’s equally unclear why the prof does this or how he even discovered that it would work.
Mostly that’s because the bulk of the movie comes from the perspective of the girlfriend (Matilda Lutz) of one of his students and she never bothers to ask. However, she does uncover an extra secret video within the original ‘Ring’ video, which offers new clues to the mystery about ghost Samara. This leads to the happy couple going on a road trip to learn about Samara’s mother from a bunch of creepy locals, including a blind Vincent D’Onofrio who couldn’t possibly be evil, right? Also, there’s no way this is another trick from that spooky ghost, is there? No way! These kids are finally gonna solve this ‘Ring’ problem because Paramount definitely wants to make sure there are no further sequels. That just makes sense. Sigh…
‘Rings’ stops and starts so many times and throws so many broken ideas at the screen that it’s embarrassingly clear just how much committee groupthink went into pummeling this movie into existence. It’s neither coherent nor consistent – and not in a manner that follows enjoyably woozy, nightmare logic either. Rather, it suggests that no one could ever entirely get on the same page about what this movie was supposed to be. It ends up playing as much like a remake as a sequel, lazily introducing a second hidden ‘Ring’ video so that these new personality-free characters can retrace the steps of the first movie and pretend that it counts as originality. Few people behave like humans and even fewer have anything resembling personalities. They’re all merely indistinctly pretty people going through a series of blank emotions until they have to express fear whenever the set-pieces arrive.
It should be noted that Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez (‘Before the Fall’) at least has a certain sense of flair and style. The movie looks pretty and the scare scenes are well constructed. Isolated fright gags work decently. Unfortunately, most of them have been given away in the trailers. (Even more unfortunately, many of the big scares from that trailer take place in the final minutes of the movie, robbing them of any climatic impact.) Anything Gutiérrez does right is completely undone by the fact that it’s impossible to empathize with any of the characters or get remotely connected the story. The best that happens is that you might note a nice shot or composition, completely removed from any sort of trance that might draw you into the narrative or… you know… scare you.
Worst of all, ‘Rings’ is intended to be set up for sequels. It doesn’t end so much as deliver a “To Be Continued” in an embarrassingly lazy manner. As if there was any doubt, this long-delayed sequel is nothing more than a crassly commercial enterprise designed to capitalize on the last remaining threads of good will left for a dying brand. The movie is a waste of time, talent and resources. The only good that could come of the flick is killing off the Hollywood wing of this franchise once and for all. If you’re hankering for a ‘Ring’ movie, do yourself a favor and watch the recently released ‘Sadako vs. Kayako’ (‘The Ring vs. The Grudge’) instead. At least that movie has a sense of the absurd and plays around with these old J-horror tropes rather than merely spitting them out again. It’s also fun, a quality that this turgid, redundant and desperately late threequel certainly never achieves.