The original Japanese horror film, Ringu, was very much a product of its time. It was a movie filled with low-fi glitchy VCR tapes, ambiguous storylines and a viscerally raw atmosphere that kept you guessing till the very last second.
In fact, the best part of it was the suspense building towards the seventh day, when the video tape’s curse kicked in.
The third American movie, Rings, decided to drag the concept into the 21st century, to little success and even less regard to what made the original so great. And even with three movies under their belt, Hollywood still continues to struggle capturing the magic from their Japanese counterparts.
When Hollywood decided to make the third movie, the VCR tape going digital was a no-brainer. While the concept sounds fine on paper, the edge is lost. Perhaps we have been desensitized by other films in the past decade. The film grains that permeated the original tape, which raised the creepy factor, is missing in this updated version. It’s pretty ironic how upping the resolution of the tape actually toned down the scare in the film. But the biggest sin here was to delve into the origin story of the boogeyman, which was completely unnecessary.
So let’s rewind back to seven days ago – we start with the plane scene that the trailer gave away (which adds nothing to the story). Julia (Matilda Lutz) departs to search for her missing-in-action boyfriend at his college. There, she stumbles upon an underground cult, led by Professor Gabriel, (Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory fame), passing the curse around to study the science behind the tape. I have to admit though – throwing science into the mix to explain how it can be reverse engineered to open an otherworldly portal was one of the last things in my mind when I think of this movie. It was an unexpected yet oddly welcomed addition to the story..
And for those who missed the original film, all someone had to do to rid themselves of the deadly curse was to make a copy of the tape and pass it on to someone else. In Rings, it was a wise choice to quickly recap (read: exposition) this “solution” from the get-go. But this is the 21st century. Making a copy of a digital clip is so gosh-darn easy, there was never really a threat. You simply just “right click” and create copy. Death avoided, if you can find an unwitting victim to watch the cursed video..
But back to Julia – she soon becomes the latest victim to watch the clip, and like before, it’s a race against time to stop the curse. What isn’t like before is that her video clip seems to have some additional but equally disturbing footage, thus setting her on a path to discover why that was so.
Her search brings her to a sleepy town where the narrative dives into the mythology behind Samara (or for film purists, Sadako). A narrative which no one asked for. And if her origin story HAD to be told, then at least avoid common tropes. I won’t spoil it for you but you can put the pieces together in your head halfway through the movie.
To make matters worse, by the time the credits rolled, everything was cleared up and there was no room for the audience to speculate. The open ending was the anti-thesis of what made the original so good.
You also know that if a horror film resorts to jump-scares too often, it’s probably a sign that it’s running out of things to pull out of its bag of tricks. From the brutal boom of someone opening an umbrella close to the camera, to someone pulling a coat off a hangar, it felt punishingly forced, without real intent, other than to startle you.
The characters are also archetypes that you’ve seen in other films before. The strong-willed protagonist, the oh-so-sweet boyfriend, the guru type professor etc. But despite the poor material and writing, the actors put up an okay performance. The standout was easily Burke, the town’s blind man, played by Vincent D’Onofrio who gave a performance almost as riveting as his Wilson Fisk/Kingpin character in Marvel’s Daredevil.
Like Samara herself, Burke does not have much screen time (see what I did there?), but for the times he appears, he commands your attention. While his motivations were very muddled, he chews up the screen and successfully elevates the character with his quietly, optimistic demeanor, despite his visual handicap. Without much dialogue, his performance clearly portrays a strong burden and a history of bad run-ins with Samara. It’s really a shame the character’s story was not written better for an actor of D’onofrio’s calibre, but he made the most of it.
Just hit eject already
Just like when watching the dreaded tape, you should really pause if you’re thinking about catching Rings, unless you basically want to explore Samara’s story. Save for a few bright glimpses in the beginning with the after-life science bits, the narrative structure gets dreadfully weary as the film drags on. You’ll likely be better off re-watching the original Japanese films or even the first American remake.