By Emily Reuben
Adaptions of Japanese horror films seem to be a popular trend in American media, especially in the early 2000’s. A notable amount of these titles appeared in American theaters to varying amounts of success, including The Grudge (2004), Pulse (2006), and One Missed Call (2008). With a few exceptions, most of these American adaptions are far less inspired than their Japanese counterparts, and as a result, many are forgotten shortly after their release. The film that started this trend of American re-interpretations of Japanese horror films, The Ring (2002), is one of the exceptions. Based off of the Japanese film Ringu (1998), The Ring was met with mostly favorable reviews and remains a title that is still heavily recommend by horror fans. While the American version of the The Ring was followed by both a short film and sequel, these titles have remained fairly unpopular among the general movie-going public and have been met with harsh scrutiny amongst critics. This year’s newest addition to the franchise, Rings, falls victim to the same old clichés that had plagued earlier entries in the franchise and ignores the factors that had made the original film a hit. Thus, Rings makes for a drawn out rather than horrific film viewing experience.
A bland story that refuses to die
…anyone who has seen The Ring will know exactly what will happen and why.
If you’ve seen a horror film, you’ve probably seen the set-up for Rings in other forgettable films. The film begins briefly on a plane. After some brief dialogue from characters who are largely unrelated to the plot, it is revealed that two of the passengers have recently watched a video saying that they will die in seven days, and coincidentally, the end of the seventh day is taking place as the conversation persists. All of the video feeds on the plane are replaced with images of the iconic “Ring Girl”, Samara, who crashes the plane, killing those who had watched the video.
After that scene, a young woman, Julia, sees off her boyfriend, Holt, as he moves to college. Julia begins to grow concerned for Holt’s well-being when he repeatedly fails to answer his phone. Acting impulsively and irrationally, Julia drives through the night to reach Holt’s college, breaks into his dorm, and finds his class schedule. She then proceeds to interrogate Holt’s professor, Gabriel, as to his whereabouts, but is quickly dismissed.
Instead of calling the police, Julia follows Gabriel to a secluded section of the college. She quickly discovers that various students are assisting Gabriel in an experiment regarding the cursed video from the opening sequence. In short, Gabriel assigns students to watch the video, analyze it, and before they die, they make a copy of the video (which somehow saves the viewer from dying at the end of the seventh day), and pass the video to another student to continue the cycle.
Julia learns that Holt is a participant in this experiment. In an extremely idiotic turn of events on Julia’s part, she willingly watches the video knowing the consequences. As a result, the rest of the film is spent aimlessly wandering around as Julia attempts to save herself from Samara.
The biggest issue with the plot is that anyone who has seen The Ring will know exactly what will happen and why. The “twist” is stolen directly from the first film, making the series of events incredibly boring to watch. The story is a direct copy-and-paste of the original film. It doesn’t update anything or really expand on the lore (in a meaningful way), so there are no surprises to be had. Even if you haven’t seen The Ring, there is nothing that strays from horror conventions. Jump-scares interrupt the plot, characters make irrational decisions, and the ghostly apparition has little to no consistency. More importantly, watching characters learn what the audience already knows is incredibly aggravating and simply lazy execution.
An insufferable protagonist
Julia is not exactly presented as the brightest crayon in the box. While all of the characters are incredibly tedious to watch, Julia’s actions in particular warrant an entire section. Despite the fact that the Julia’s stupidity results in her being cursed in the first place, Julia’s actions are portrayed as “selfless” rather than impulsive. Furthermore, when Julia is first exposed to Samara’s video, the obvious solution is to do what the participants of the experiment do every day: make a copy of the video and show it to someone else. Well apparently Julia is special because the copy of the video is larger than usual and can’t be copied for some inane reason. The entire situation is contrived and forced, but it’s what drives her entire character, as well as the story.
Without giving away too much, early on, the film strongly hints that Julia is selected by Samara, which makes absolutely no sense based on what is shown. Julia believes that Samara is misunderstood and is seeking out her help by making the video unable to copy, resulting in Julia being unable to pass the curse onto someone else. Julia goes through about half the film seeing Samara as a sort of ally that must be rescued, despite the overwhelming evidence that implies otherwise.
Complementing Julia’s lack of common sense is the horrendous acting. Not only is Julia’s character devoid of originality, she is nearly unwatchable. Julia’s actress Matilda Lutz gives an agonizingly boring performance. It’s one thing to feature acting so terrible it’s laughable, but showcasing a performance that can easily put an audience to sleep is inexcusable. Not a single reaction seems genuine. Her reactions may make the audience wonder just how little time and effort was devoted to directing the actors or editing (probably less effort than went into this review). To be fair, none of the actors in Rings can really be described as well-done, but Julia is the protagonist. The audience is stuck with her as she attempts to act afraid of horribly done CGI and dark environments whereas the supporting cast is featured far less. Simply put, writing a story about an uncharismatic woman played by an uncharismatic actress unsurprisingly leads to an uncharismatic film.
The horror genre is not known for its kind portrayal of women. This negative portrayal in Rings is even more insulting considering that The Ring featured an interesting and well performed female lead. It’s aggravating to see Rings continues the trend of poorly written and acted female characters.
First you watch it; then you yawn
Rings is so desperate to catch the audience off-guard that it resorts to using a shot of an umbrella opening as a jump-scare.
Absolutely nothing about Rings instills fear. For a franchise known for its signature creepy child, she is given very little screen-time. Samara hardly appears in the film, and when she does its extremely underwhelming. However, Samara’s cursed video does make an appearance quite often. In fact, most viewers will probably grow tired of the repeated imagery. Most of the images in the video are ripped directly from The Ring and what is added is noticeably subpar in comparison.
Just as most other cheap horror cash-ins, Rings is littered with pointless jumps-scares. These are just as annoying here as they are in other films, but one instance in particular is worth a mention. Rings is so desperate to catch the audience off-guard that it resorts to using a shot of an umbrella opening as a jump-scare. When a horror film has to resort to using average objects and loud, inappropriately placed audio ques to stimulate fear, it’s safe to say the film has failed at its purpose.
Much of the tension in The Ring developed organically through effective pacing. Specifically, The Ring showed the protagonist’s desperation to escape from dying after watching the cursed tape by including a countdown at the end of each day. As each day passed, the stakes became higher as her time to figure out a solution became increasingly shorter. In Rings, there is no clear passage of time, and therefore, there are no stakes. It is unclear whether one day or three days have passed since Julia watched the video. This results in a lack of urgency as Julia and Holt stumble about passively.
Rings fails as a sequel and more so as an expansion of the Ring franchise. Nothing seems new or innovative, the acting is awful, the plot is inconsistent, and everything seems generally lazy.