2.5 out of 5 Skulls

Review By: Kelsey Deth

Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed By:  F. Javier Gutiérrez

Written By: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman, and Kôji Suzuki (Novel)

There is no question that Rings is a completely unneeded sequel and in some ways its story elements do seem forced and sloppily thrown together in comparison to the first film, which was much more cohesive. While I was able to accept most of what we are given, you can certainly find plot holes if you dig hard enough for them. I went in with pretty low expectations and I was more impressed than I expected to be. When The Ring came out, I was 13, at the stage where I was just getting that thirst for horror and reveling in the genre;  getting a wonderful thrill out of it while still able to be terrified. Perhaps I was easier to impress, but I remember The Ring being one film that did this for me. The ticking clock Rachel was racing against while trying to uncover the mystery of the tape that was going to end her life if she couldn’t appease this spirit had me at the edge of my seat. The film had such great tension and pulled you in so you really did want to get to the bottom of Samara’s tragic story. While the concept of “You watch the tape and you die” is a bit gimmicky and even cheesy, the tone, impending doom and suspense, and story pulled you in and made it feel more plausible than Rings does in the end, but with that being said, it still manages to be compelling, even if a little messy.

Rings pretty much disregards the events of The Ring Two and acts as a direct sequel to the 2002 film. Although in many respects it feels more like a reboot, considering there’s not one original cast member from the first one and it is more or less the same thing happening again to other people, although escalating and changing. I might be in the minority here, but while it might not stand up and have the same pull and suspense the original has, I still was able to care about the characters we are given, mostly the lead heroine, and believe what they were going through. I appreciate it was essentially true to the spirit of the original while adding new developments, for the rules to be changing, and to take us deeper in to Samara’s past. You could argue we really didn’t need to go farther in to Samara’s story as we have a pretty good idea of her depraved, short life and her motivations for revenge; needing her suffering to be known and her story to reach as many people as possible. Again, unneeded and it opens up some potential plot holes if you question the timeline hard enough, but still all in all, I was able to get invested in another woman’s journey who  is desperate to get deeper in to Samara’s story to not only save her own skin, but to end the curse and set things right for good.

There seemed to be a ton of complaints about the acting in Rings. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Matilda Lutz’s performance as our lead, Julia, in particular. I think the character of Julia and Lutz herself might be what made me invested in what was on the screen before me more than anything else in the film; they were a key part in making this all more or less work for me. She had a very ‘real’ quality to her, enabling me to feel for and relate to her. I saw the story through her eyes and couldn’t help but hope she would beat the odds. Lutz portrayal of Julia hit that “normal girl thrown in a horrifying, impossible situation” mark and did it well. Julia really wasn’t weak at any point, which I admire. She shows her compassion and selflessness again and again from staying back from college to take care of her mom, to not only not being the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the man, but actually being the one to run to her boyfriend’s rescue. She has a fierce heart and refuses to be passively waiting for her boyfriend’s call to hear everything is all right, which was a satisfactory reversal of gender roles. Nothing major, but still worth noting. Even beyond her boyfriend and her life being at risk, she shows her compassion both for Samara, the very demon haunting her, and for all of humanity who could be infected by her curse after them. She wants to see an end to this for the sake of everyone.

The mystery of Samara and this video consumes her. Admittedly at times, she does stupid things like crawl in to the grave plot where Samara’s body once laid. At moments like this she is giving Samara every opportunity to taunt and trap her further. I can still look past this though. Julia is scared by what might happen without a doubt, but all in all, considering what’s happening to her, she holds very little fear for Samara. More than anything she feels determination and even empathy for Samara, which makes more sense why she would at times be reckless and not really thinking about the consequences. Maybe she doesn’t really care about those consequences when she has a death sentence looming over her anyway. She has very little to lose and she’s going to do everything she can to fight this. Julia attempts to understand rather than fear, which I think is one of the most subtle, yet powerful sentiments Rings holds. Whether that understanding will be enough is another question. All in all, I think it’s fair to call Julia a strong female character with great fight and empathy in her, even if she is in a mediocre horror sequel.

In comparison to Lutz, Alex Roe as Holt, does come off a little as the generic hot boyfriend character. It’s a flatter character so I don’t think this is entirely the fault of Roe. I didn’t find him unbelievable necessarily he just wasn’t as strong or important of a character regardless of him being the one that unintentionally brings our lead to face this terror. Zach Roerig of The Vampire Diaries fame, just had a small role, but his performance as always, was noticeably stale, flat, and unemotional in a situation that required genuine terror. This is only the second thing I have seen him in, although I have watched him on The Vampire Diaries for 8 years, but he seems to mostly be playing these roles the same and void of any true emotion, which makes him incredibly frustrating to watch. He’s a very small part of the film and not a ton was resting on his shoulders here, so he doesn’t take anything away from it. Actually for me he served as the annoying character you don’t mind seeing be bent to Samara’s will one bit.

Aimee Teegarden stands out along with Lutz as one of the stronger performances, the personality and spunk she shows goes far. You don’t quite like her, but you understand her, and she represents a more true reaction of how most people would handle this dilemma of either dying or having to pass on your fate to someone else. Vincent D’Onofrio and Johnny Galecki, both being capable actors, help round out the cast and offer us two more crucial characters:  D’Onorfrio portrays the priest in Samara’s hometown that may know more than he is letting on and Galecki plays Holt’s professor who in our story line, first found the tape and has been doing intense experiments and research on the answer Samara’s haunting might hold.

This brings us to how an evil spirit working through VHS tapes and landline phone calls translates to the age of bluray, digital downloads, social media, technological glitches, and things going “viral”. The film does start with this VHS tape, but seemingly the professor then coverts it to a digital copy. He then gives these copies to a number of his students who are a part of a highly secretive research group of his centering around Samara’s video that is working to prove the existence of life after death. He had to show it to at least one person to save his own skin and perhaps then sees the opportunity, knowing what he saw and the bigger picture it holds for the world. I honestly think this dilemma and seeing him create this underground research lab, deciding the discoveries it could bring were worth the risk of possibly condemning his students to a horrible fate, could have been an interesting focus and start point to get in to the film. Unfortunately, we aren’t really shown any of this until well after it’s underway and even then it’s used as a way to move other plot lines forward. By centering on Samara’s origins story, which we already are pretty familiar with, it loses the opportunity to dive in to something perhaps far more interesting and relevant to Samara haunting in the modern age. When Gabriel realizes things are changing and it’s no longer as simple as copying the video and giving it to someone else, that Samara decided to change the rules, he panics, but helps as much as he can, but essentially leaves the kids to figure it out for themselves and that story line is pretty much done.

There is one instance where due to how Samara is changing things it spurs a technology based mistake that is keeping Julia from doing the only thing that could save her life. I appreciate that  it acknowledged how this battle is changed taking place in 2017 instead of 2002. This was really the only instance of this though. Things could have easily changed with MP4 files instead of a VHS tape that physically has to travel from one person to the other. It could have made Samara’s death count and those who were exposed to her story almost endless and instant, particularly with the capability for something to blow up on social media or even YouTube. There is a slight hint of the potential of something like this, but ultimately if you are going to show Samara hunting in a changed, modern world, you might as well explore those possibilities deeper.

You really have to embrace the supernatural element, meaning not having typical answers to what is happening and why. You have to believe Samara is capable of controlling everything that happens here, even things with video files and rewriting the rules of the game. Also, you have to accept other more common place oddities like people still answering landlines and unknown numbers. If you can’t suspend a fair amount of disbelief that everything you are watching could be happening and done at Samara’s will this entire film is going to be maddening and unrealistic to watch.

It’s a PG-13 American made, J horror inspired film, so this shouldn’t come as a terrible surprise, but gorehounds, this is not going to satisfy your appetites. There are very few kills and due to the nature of Samara’s style of killing, hardly any blood. Most of the film is centered on Julia trying to find out the truth before it’s too late. It’s heavier on the suspense and digging deeper in to the story and searching for the key to breaking the curse more than being about the gore or death count. There are a number of jump scares, which I generally detest, but expected for this type of film. When I first watched The Ring I remember the victims deranged forms being such an eerie, paralyzing image; inciting the fear of Samara in me and getting me to imagine what it would be like to be one of her victims. In Rings, more often than not, this image seems more laughable than anything. There was something about the visuals of Samara in the last moments before reaching her victims and the kills themselves that didn’t seem to be nearly as effective. It felt less real, perhaps less practical effects and more CGI and editing. That was something that took me out of it and made it feel less believable to me than any story flaws.

Rings is a mediocre film; it’s flawed, repetitive and clichéd at moments, and wastes opportunities to really tackle
themes and new territory to take the series in a new direction relevant to the time. There are redeeming qualities though and I think if you are able to care for the lead like I did and more or less fall in to this story, accepting it as things are presented, it can be a mysterious, creepy descent further in to Samara’s cursed life and death. More than anything it’s the genuine, strong lead that saves the film and makes it work at all. Still, I can really only recommend Rings for those who can go in to it with very low expectations, and preferably who enjoyed the initial concept of The Ring and want to revisit Samara’s story with a twist on hand, not a terribly unpredictable  twist, but one that does change things.