Maintaining the tone of the first two The Ring films, Rings is a sometimes scary, sometimes predictable sequel. F. Javier Gutiérrez recreates the world of Samara (Bonnie Morgan; Daveigh Chase in archive footage) with a cohesive style that links back to the previous two films. There are innovative ideas rarely carried out because of stunted character development. Deviating from the family dysfunction theme centered in the first two films, Rings is a flawed feature with clever ideas aimed at a teenage demographic.
The film follows Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she searches for her missing college boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe). The search leads her to Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a professor that has had previous experience with Samara’s odious videotape. He has designed an “experiment” surrounding the videotape. Ultimately, what Gabriel has created is a trail of people forced to copy the videotape in his own pursuit to escape the curse. When Samara’s tape reveals more to Julia than anyone else before, it becomes up to Julia to save them all before her seven days are up.
The screenplay by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman is uneven at times. While they have created some very interesting ideas within the mythology, the character development could have used a little work. The franchise is unique in the way in which a new cast of characters can work seamlessly within each new film. If a copy of Samara’s tape ends up in a new set of hands, the story could go in endless directions. Naomi Watts is sorely missed. However, the tape in Rings ending up in the hands of someone like Gabriel is a compelling idea. It is also the missed opportunity of this flick.
Gabriel is a character riding the fence between misguided villain and a tragic hero. Galecki’s performance is one of the more interesting reasons to watch Rings. Unfortunately, the film is centered on Julia and Holt. Lutz and Roe deliver perfectly fine performances; however, their characters are a bit generic. The film could have had a more interesting dynamic between the egotistical Gabriel and morally bound Julia. An unromantic dynamic that did not regurgitate the couple-on-a-quest storyline from the first film.
Rings does achieve a desired quality in a sequel: It adds to the mythology while not taking away from the previous films. The information about Samara’s history is expanded. At the same time, the film does move the franchise further along in terms of what the videotape can do in the hands of someone like Gabriel. Especially with updated technology. The problematic elements revolve around how certain parts of Rings seem derivative of both older and more recent films. There is one sequence like the recent Don’t Breathe involving a blind man using the darkness to his advantage. It could be pure coincidence as both films started development in 2015. Unfortunately, for those that have watched Don’t Breathe first, this idea seems repetitive. Other derivative elements surround Samara’s backstory.
Recreating the look from the prior films, Gutiérrez is competent in directing the suspense in Rings. There is minimal gore and a few moments that will make the audience jump. However, this sequel lacks the emotional punch of the first film. Which is interesting considering its similarities. This is one of the few cases where if the filmmakers are not going to bring back the original characters, then the story could go in a completely different direction. The first half of the film seemingly aimed to do just that. Obviously, the foundation of this universe should remain intact. However, the second half of the film is just repeating the same story from the first with a younger cast. A couple has watched a cursed tape and must now solve the mystery of Samara. Only this time, they come at her from a different angle.
Younger audiences unfamiliar with the first two films can easily watch Rings and find moments to enjoy. The same creepy atmosphere is there and learning about Samara from this perspective will be fresh. Die-hard fans of The Ring series might also enjoy seeing their favorite supernatural long-haired girl living in a well brought back to life. Yet, fans of the franchise hoping for more than just a repeat of the first movie should pull out their own VHS copy of The Ring. This film ends up teasing good ideas. The setup is there for a smart and new direction for Rings. It is a perfectly fine film. And that is its problem. The ideas are there and not executed. It does not grip the audience with the same fear the original did the first time we watched Samara climbing out of the well. Instead, it is just business as usual.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): F. Javier Gutiérrez
Writer(s): David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman
Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, and Johnny Galecki
Release: February 3, 2017
Studio/ Production Co: Paramount
Budget: $33,000,000 (estimated)
Length: 102 Minutes