THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Rings, the second sequel to Gore Verbinski's creepy 2002 chiller The Ring, opens with a young man on an airplane. He tells the girl next to him that he watched a cursed videotape that supposedly causes you to die seven days after viewing it. That was a week ago, he informs her, so if he can get through the next five minutes, he'll be okay. Now here's a question for you: If you were in his shoes, would you board an airplane? Logic dictates that you might reasonably stay locked up at home, so that if you did die, it wouldn't be in a horrific manner like a plane crash. You might also want to avoid taking a whole bunch of other people down with you.
That's just one of many examples of the idiocy that pervades this movie.
For those uninitiated, the whole Ring series (which is based on a Japanese manga and series of films) is about a little girl named Samara who was once thrown down a well. Her malicious spirit passes itself around through an old VHS tape filled with eerie images. Once seen, the only way to avoid dying is to make a copy of the footage and show it to someone else.
In Rings, Matilda Lutz plays Julia, a young woman who sends her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) off to college. Shortly after he arrives for the semester, Holt disappears. Julia goes to the college to find him, only to discover he's taking part in a dangerous experiment run by a professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) that involves trying to figure out the video's meaning by watching it. (Dumbest experiment ever, right?) Holt is only twelve hours from dying, so Julia watches it to save him and bide them both some time. Her experience is different, though, which leads to a journey to find out why Samara is showing her new visions. She and Holt end up at the home of a cemetery caretaker (Vincent D'Onofrio) who might have some answers.
The Ring is an inordinately effective horror film because it creates a sense of existential dread. The lead character, Rachel (nicely played by Naomi Watts), knows that death is pending, and she desperately wants to find a way out of it. She also wants to protect her young son. That leads to a moral dilemma in which she has to decide whether or not to essentially murder someone else by showing them the tape in order to save herself. With its unnerving, slow-burn atmosphere and blue-tinted visuals, The Ring has a way of getting under your skin with its Something is out to get you! story.
Rings, on the other hand, opts for a bland, formulaic plot about how Samara is actually a victim. The movie utilizes several of the most annoying horror movie cliches, but none more than the one in which genre sequels take all the sting out of their monsters by trying to “explain” them. Attempting to make the audience empathize with Samara is a great way to rob her of any scare factor she may possess. If the filmmakers absolutely felt they had to take this route, they'd have been better off not tipping their hand in regard to the big twist at the end. Seriously, if you're going to pull out the old “Person X is really Person Y” gimmick, for the love of mankind, don't show a picture of Person Y earlier in the story.
Lutz and Roe are astonishingly bland here, bringing none of the intensity that Watts brought to the original. This blandness becomes more pronounced as we realize their characters are following a bunch of clues that don't really lead anywhere significant. The whole mystery about Samara – who, incidentally, has very minimal screen time – turns out to be the most routine, unimaginative scenario you can think of. Why make another sequel if you're just going to trot out a revelation that's been utilized by dozens of other horror films in one way or another?
Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez, Rings was initially supposed to be released in November 2015. It got bumped to April 1, 2016, then to October 28 of that year, before finally landing on Feb. 3 of this year. That's nearly a year-and-a-half sitting on a shelf. For all intents and purposes, it could have just stayed there indefinitely.
( out of four)
Rings is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.
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