Ten years ago the American chapter of that haunted videotape franchise shut its doors after a single deeply disappointing sequel. It made sense. VCRs were pretty much extinct by then so the tale of a haunted VHS tape didn’t exactly seem like something worth keeping around. It didn’t die in Japan though. Far from it. Sequels kept flowing down the pike right up until last year’s Sadako Vs. Kayako (aka The Ring Vs. The Grudge). So it only makes sense that Paramount might try and revive their version of the series to see if there was anything left in the tale of that little girl ghost in the well that might spook the pants off of contemporary audiences. So they made this one. Then delayed the release at least four times (and given the fact that footage that isn’t in the final film popped up in the early trailers, likely commissioned a whole stack of reshoots as well). Now Rings is finally here and it’s pretty damn horrible. In fact, it’s bad enough to make you nostalgic for The Ring Two, which really shouldn’t be possible.
So this big dumb movie inexplicably starts with Rings’ biggest and dumbest moment. It kicks off with an outbreak of the Ring tape on an airplane leading to a (spoiler) crash. Oh wait, you saw it in the trailer already. So that’s no spoiler. I’ll bet you probably thought it was a climactic moment, but nope it happens right off the top, and is completely disconnected from everything else in the movie, suggesting that it was likely conceived long after the original version of this movie was written or shot. Anyhoo, from there, Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki pops up as a college professor (yes, really) who buys a VCR from a flea market that just happens to have the haunted tape inside. He watches it, and then we jump ahead months later as he sets up a club amongst his students where they all watch the video, and then pass it along to someone else for kicks. How does he know that would work, and why would he ever turn it into a game with his students? Who knows! The movie never bothers to explain.
The main character is actually played by Matilda Lutz whose boyfriend (Alex Roe) ends up joining Galecki’s Ring tape pass-along cult. Eventually she ends up seeing the video herself, but can’t make a copy of the file. Why? Well because the Ring ghost has evolved for the digital age, silly! In fact, that pesky lil’ ghost hides a new video within the original video. Again, you might be wondering why? Well, so that Lutz and Roe can go on another mystery-solving quest to discover how that ghost girl was conceived and born. You’ll be surprised to hear this, but she didn’t have a particularly pleasant start in life. The hows and whys are doled out slowly. They may or may not involve Vincent D’Onofrio’s kindly blind man who offers helpful advice. I mean, he seems friendly enough so I doubt he’d do anything wrong. But at the same time he’s also the most famous face in the movie with little to do. I hate to put two and two together, but. (By the way, if you’re angry about that vague spoiler, you should be even more angry at whoever made the Rings trailers since they’ve already given away the final scene/scares).
The most frustrating element of Rings right out of the gate is the way the movie keeps starting and stopping, introducing a somewhat compelling avenue for a sequel, then abandoning it for something else until this thing essentially becomes a remake of the first flick. You can feel that the script went through a lot of hands desperately trying to give the series a jumpstart (there are three writers credited and likely just as many uncredited, if not more). Eventually it settles into the least interesting option by restaging scenes, stories, and ideas from the first movie only a little bit cheaper and a lot bit stupider. There are huge leaps in logic, plot twists that somehow make less than no sense, and a complete dearth of relatable human behaviour. It’s mostly just a bunch of generic pretty people making stoic expressions and speaking in a monotone manner until they are allowed to make a scared face.
All that being said, Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutierrez (Before The Fall) does at least make it all look pretty. He’s knows exactly how to replicate the stylized dread that defines the aesthetic of these movies, and at least stages a few decent scares. Likewise, D’Onofrio is clearly having fun camping it up in his role, and it’s hard not to crack a smile as he somehow continually finds new ways to go even further over the top. Unfortunately, the fact that the movie looks good and has one decent cartoony supporting performance only makes it even more disappointing that the story is such a mess, and the bulk of the cast is so boring. Sure, this franchise died along with VCRs, but Gutierrez does occasionally remind viewers what made the original movie so creepy. The fact that everything surrounding those brief moments of success is so dire only makes Rings all the more frustrating. You can see glimpses of what a good Ring sequel might feel like in between all the nonsense, all the way to a final sequel-baiting moment so irritatingly obvious that you’ll want to scream at the screen. Oh well, at least this flick is bad enough that it will likely bomb and kill this franchise dead once more. That’s a relief. If you need a little more Ring in your life, learn to embrace subtitles. You wouldn’t believe how many Ring sequels await you from Japan, almost all of which are better than the flaming turd that is Rings.