When THE RING came out in 2002 (a remake of the 1998 Japanese original), it was an instant hit with horror fans, introducing the world to creepy ghost girl Samara. The concept was actually kind of weird – people find a videotape, watch a bunch of strange and haunting imagery, and then get a phone call where a voice tells them they’ll die in seven days. Strange things happen while time passes, and seven days later a Samara appears crawling out of a TV and claims them… unless they make a copy and someone else watches it, which frees them from the curse. You know what, as I type it, it really is rather ridiculous. How does a ghost girl control a videotape?? Oh well, you have to get past that in order to enjoy the legitimate scares that worked so well in the 2002 hit (I strongly believe the original Japanese version is more scary, but maybe it’s because I saw it first). THE RING TWO came out in 2005, but wasn’t as well received, despite being directed by the Japanese original’s Hideo Nakata and once again starring Naomi Watts. Now, over a decade later, we get a more timely follow up in RINGS, which brings the concept into a more digital age.
The opening takes place on a plane, where a nervous guy begins telling the girl next to him about how he watched a strange tape seven days ago and is on the plane trying to escape his supposedly doomed fate. He hits the restroom and the girl tells her friend about the cute guy she just met that’s unfortunately crazy, but when her friend hears about what he said she clearly knows the story well… and you can probably guess where it goes from there. RINGS on a plane! It’s actually a sort of silly opening, but I guess they wanted to establish the concept that nowhere is safe from Samara, she will always claim her victims. Back on land two years later, we meet Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a college professor who finds the ill-fated plane passenger’s things at an antique shop, including the man’s VCR player. Gabriel buys the items and (of course) finds the “Watch Me” tape in the VCR. So he does just that, only what happens next is actually rather intriguing. Cut to Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), two young lovers saying goodbye as Holt goes off to college. His absence is hard for her, and after some unanswered phone messages get the better of her insecurity, Julia goes off in search of her man which leads her to Gabriel’s class. Eventually she discovers the the college professor has put together a secret group of Samara researchers, and has literally turned the ghost girl’s death sentence into science experiment. This is where the film is at its most interesting. Imagine turning this horrible curse into a research project, having students pass it on to stay safe and study the results. Sadly, the story goes in a different direction from there, and ends up feeling like a less scary retread of the first movie that never really figures out how to be scary, save for one rather effective moment at a bathroom door.
It’s said that RINGS actually sat on the shelf for a year or two, originally intended for a November 2015 release… maybe with the studio hoping for some re-tooling, or perhaps just not knowing when to safely release it. It’s now finally hitting theaters almost three years after it was shot, which of course is usually not a good sign. But the biggest problem with the production isn’t that it’s a bad movie, it’s just not very interesting, especially when compared to what came before it. The idea of bringing the Samara character into a digital age should actually be highly intriguing, or at least offer a lot of opportunities, but instead it seems like they abandoned the most fascinating aspects of the story for what results in a tired and too familiar second half.
I’m not sure how to feel about Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, who looks like a poor man’s Jessica Alba, and never really seems to bring much substance to the role of Julia. Granted, the material isn’t terribly interesting, but it’s proof that Naomi Watts (as an actress) carried a lot more weight in her two efforts. Alex Roe fares slightly better, but is almost a little too chiseled and model-like to be taken seriously. One of the first scenes he’s in has Julia telling him she likes how he smells, so as he’s leaving he takes his shirt off and gives it to her… really? I guess that’s a little something for the ladies in the audience, but it’s one of multiple silly moments that aren’t helping this film. Johnny Galecki (THE BIG BANG THEORY) feels like he’s slumming it here, playing a pot-smoking professor all the kids think is cool, and while the initial concept of him turning the Samara pass-it-on principle into a science experiment is actually quite interesting, it never really pays off enough to make his character all that great. Imagine college kids taking advantage of something like that, a new form of cyber bullying could be sending your copy to someone you hate… now THAT would have made for an intriguing new Samara tale! Vincent D’Onofrio shows up late in the story as a mysterious blind man, but his character’s arc feels pretty telegraphed and a tad familiar if you’ve seen the first movie. This sequel helmed by Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez, who does some nice work stylistically, but fails to build the kind of tension you’d hope to see in this franchise (can we call this a franchise?).
As a concept THE RING made the most of its narrative, and stretched it where it could for THE RING TWO, but RINGS doesn’t really feel necessary or effective. If you’re going to make a sequel, especially after such a long delay between films, you better have something strong to show the audience. Instead this one lands with a thud, and even the ambitious finale doesn’t earn much respect after what we slog through to get to it.