There are lots of creepy videos on the internet. EntireYouTube channels of are full of unsettling, inexplicablevideos that suggest a sinister conspiracy behind them. Part of the reason behind this ongoing fascination is The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s influential remake of the Japanese horror film Ringu. The premise of both is the same: an unsuspecting innocent watches a creepy-ass video, then immediately receives a phone from someone saying that they will die in seven days’ time.
Now there is Rings, a remake of a remake of a remake. To call it a sequel is generous, since it’s a standalone film that does not depend on our knowledge of The Ring or The Ring 2. Nonetheless, our appetite for creepy viral content remains strong, so the premise could conceivably work today, and yet Rings is the worst horror film in years. Unintentionally funny, with zero scares and piss poor performances, its best hope is to serve as a cautionary tale for future horror filmmakers.
The evil video finds its way to Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a professor who believes it contains the mysteries to the human soul. Using his students as guinea pigs, he has dozens of them watch the video, including a hunky freshman named Holt (Alex Roe). Holt wants to spare his younger girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz), who still lives at home, from the same fate. She nonetheless intuits something is wrong, so she travels to the university and immerses herself in the video’s mythology. Soon she and Holt travel to a remote Pacific Northwest hamlet, all in the hope of unraveling the mysteries of the video and of Samara, the young girl behind its supernatural power.
The suspense sequences in Rings are strange and incoherent. The only limit of Samara’s power is what director F. Javier Gutiérrez and his three screenwriters can imagine for her. There is a scene, for example, where a flat screen television lands on the floor, screen side down, and Samara traverses the screen’s plane, emerging from under the TV to murder a girl whose seven days are up.
Gutiérrez would surely be the first to admit that the horror in Rings eschews realism, but the problem is how there is nothing to steady the plot. It’s an inexplicable mistake, since the premise of Rings supplies its characters with a ticking clock. Verbinski’s The Ring included a countdown of how many days has passed since viewing the video, while Rings has no apparent interest in making its heroes desperate. All that’s left are the whims of Samara, via Gutiérrez, and his hallucinatory imagery contains about as much terror as the scrawls on a goth kid’s notebook. Even with lazy tricks and jump scares, Rings only elicits chuckles, never gasps.
Believable actors are another crucial component to horror, because they create a foundation on which a director can build more implausible elements. The Ring starred Naomi Watts, a fine actress who radiates intelligence alongside whatever emotion a scene may require. Lutz is not in the same league is Watts, and to suggest otherwise is an insult to Watts. Lutz’s stiff, lifeless performance suggests she’s practically an amateur.
Lutz was born in Italy, and it does not matter that she occasionally slips back to her native accent (although that can be funny). What does matter is how in one line reading after another, Lutz exerts no sense of despair, passion, or determination. Screenwriters David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and Akiva Goldsman do not exactly do her any favors, as she has no real motivation to unlocking the video’s mystery. Julia does what she does because that’s what the movie requires of her, which just as mind-numbingly dull as it sounds.
If Rings has one glimmer of intrigue, it’s because of Vincent D’Onofrio. He appears as Burke, a blind ex-priest who—in a twist that will shock exactly no one—has many dark secrets. At one point, Burke stalks Julia through his home, muttering prayers, and it’s the closest thing Rings gets toward actual scares. Gutiérrez fills the rest with special effects and attempts at unusual camera placement, yet they are no substitute for several glaring, fundamental miscalculations. Rings may clock in at under two hours, but it feels longer. It feel seven days long, to be precise, and anyone who sees it may wish the same fate as the hapless saps in the film who press play.
Rings open today in theaters everywhere.