The Ring was my favorite of the remakes of Asian horror films in the early aughts. I’m on the record; I’m a Ring-leader. When Samara the stringy-haired wraith comes out of the TV at the end, there’s no convincing me that she can’t emerge from the movie screen, too. That’s just science.
Having poisoned the ghost-well with an unnecessary sequel in 2005, the owners of this particular bit of intellectual property have now commissioned another one, just as unnecessary but perhaps cushioned by the passage of time. It’s been 16 1/2 years since the original, 12 years since the followup. There’s a whole new generation of (potentially) easily scared teens!
Rings, as it is pointlessly called, seems to be the result of two different sequel concepts being smashed together. The first half of the movie concerns the efforts of a college professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), to analyze the deadly videotape (since digitized) as possible proof of the afterlife and the existence of the soul. (In case you forgot: if you watch the tape, you die seven days later, unless you make a copy of it and have someone else watch it in the meantime. Then the curse is passed on to that person and isn’t your problem anymore. It’s trickle-down evil.) Gabriel has a secret laboratory and the organized participation of many students, including one Holt (Alex Roe), whose girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Lutz), comes looking for him when he stops answering her calls.
Taking a scientific approach to the tape is a winning concept that gives the story room to expand without merely repeating (or contradicting) what we already know. But that storyline eventually gives way to another one that essentially does just repeat the original premise. Julia’s copy of the tape has visual elements that weren’t there before, leading her and Holt to investigate more deeply the origins of the dead girl whose malevolent spirit is behind it all. Great — more backstory. That Julia seems to be pursuing it out of curiosity rather than any more urgent reasons lowers the stakes quite a bit.
Julia and Holt end up in a small Pacific Northwest town, where a blind man named Burke (typically hammy Vincent D’Onofrio) and a chatty bed-and-breakfast proprietor (Jill Jane Clements) deliver more exposition while Julia has eerie visions. In these premonitions, and in the film’s scattered moments of Samara visitations, director F. Javier Gutiérrez reminds us of the unsettling surreality that made The Ring so vivid. But all else is dreary tedium, garden-variety jolts ‘n’ scares and forgettable dialogue (credited to three writers), though at least Gutiérrez treats it seriously. The powers that be ought to have chosen one premise for the sequel, not two, and ought to have considered whether they even needed one.
Eric D. Snider lives in Portland, at least for the next seven days.