Rings – Film Review
Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez
Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Vincent D’Onofrio
Reviewed by David Turpin
If one likes high-gloss supernatural hokum – and this correspondent does – then Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) is still hard to beat. Elegantly crafted with a kind of good-natured nastiness, the film couldn’t quite match Hideo Nakata’s original Ringu (1998) for scares, but it leap-frogged past it on entertainment value. Surprisingly, the real virtue of Verbinski’s Ring was movie star grit and glamour, with Naomi Watts as the most root-for-able horror heroine since Sigourney Weaver in Alien. The thrill was largely gone by the time Nakata himself was tapped for 2007’s The Ring Two, but Watts gave it her all, and it’s hard to dislike any film that gives Sissy Spacek a cameo as a soothsaying madwoman.
Unfortunately, the would-be digital-age “reboot” Rings loses everything that made its predecessors tick, most notably Watts herself. In place of her intelligent – and comparatively mature – protagonist, Rings substitutes the usual array of wishy-washy college students, led by Italian actress Matilda Lutz in what must be the blandest role of the year. Some token efforts have been made to update the haunted-VHS conceit of the original, but all this proves is that the sinister whir of a VCR carries an ineffable chill largely absent from endless shots of anxious people copy-pasting Quick-time movies.
After a completely unrelated, and absurdly over-egged, prologue set on an airplane, Rings introduces us to Julia (Lutz) and her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe, who viewers almost certainly won’t recall from last year’s teen sci-fi dud The Fifth Wave). We know Julia and Holt are in love because he opens the film by likening himself to Orpheus and her to Eurydice. If you’re hoping for an intriguing mythological subtext, forget it – Holt doesn’t even seem to know the difference between the Christian hell and the Greek Underworld. As the film winds on, viewers may come to empathise – proceedings eventually devolving into pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo, shot in lighting murkier than the River Styx itself. (It’s one of the many missteps of this film that the intriguingly folkloric haunting of Nakata and Verbinski’s films has been replaced with a boring Judeo-Christian “devil child” concept).
Rings also suffers from a lack of focus – presenting as several half-baked ideas for a Ring re-start, jammed together in no particular order. The first half involves a group of college students who deliberately circulate the haunted video-file, “infecting” each other with its curse to assist in a research project manned by their smarmy tutor (a dreadful Johnny Galecki). Unfortunately, director F. Javier Gutierrez and his three credited screenwriters are more interested in contriving rinse-and-repeat would-be scares than in having any actual fun with the idea of a literally “viral” video, or in the obvious association of “viral” haunting with sexually transmitted disease (an idea mined by David Robert Mitchell in 2014’s It Follows).
After some wheel-spinning on campus, Gutierrez abruptly drops this set-up altogether and begins from scratch with a Scooby Doo-level mystery in which Julia and Holt investigate whatever scraps of “origin story” have been left unexploited by previous series entries. This section is marginally more entertaining, its chief failing being dullness rather than the first half’s infuriating wrong-headedness. Ultimately, though, it boils down to a vastly inferior remake of Verbinski’s original, with a gale-force Vincent D’Onofrio playing a thinly disguised version of Brian Cox’s part in that film.
It may be unfair to blame Gutierrez for Rings’ incoherence, as it has the feel of a film that’s been re-cut to near oblivion. Still, the game is definitely up by the final stages, in which Rings resorts to using actual clips from its predecessors to drum up a climactic head of steam. The ghostly video in Rings may haunt its viewers for seven days, but the film itself is likely to have a rather shorter life span.