In a classic example of going back to a dry well, cash-hungry producers have inflicted upon unsuspecting audiences an entirely redundant third installment in a 15-year-old franchise with director F. Javier Gutiérrez’s Rings. I can’t remember when I took it upon myself to watch Gore Verbinski’s 2002 American version or Hideo Nakata’s vastly superior 1998 Japanese original, but I recall being impressed by both. The question of when that date falls is significant (to me, anyway) in that I started film school in 2002, so the callouses of critical cynicism that currently shield my eyes were not yet fully formed. I don’t know if either film would hold up for me today (2005’s The Ring Two didn’t the first time around), a question that’s largely based on how profoundly silly Rings is and how heavily indebted it is to its predecessors.
The plot, scripted by David Loucka and Jacob Estes with a polish from producer Akiva Goldsman, is essentially just a retread of the demonic-girl origin story covered in the first two American films with an updated internet-heavy twist. But its complete inability to recapture the charm of the initial J-horror version left me wondering if anyone involved actually took the time to watch the damned thing. The dialogue is some of the most insipid and uninspired in any modern horror film I’ve seen, with characters referencing events they should have no knowledge of strictly for the audience’s potential benefit. Why should Johnny Galecki mention that a VCR containing the cursed tape from the first film came from the estate of a young man killed in a plane crash? Because the writers don’t trust the audience to remember the cold-open that happened five minutes prior, that’s why. This sort of thing is unfortunately to be expected, as Loucka took a 10-year break from writing following Eddie, the Whoopi Goldberg coaches the Knicks “comedy” (and hasn’t done anything of note since), while Goldsman will likely never earn my forgiveness for last year’s The Fifth Wave.
The film isn’t only derivative at the level of plotting, as director Gutiérrez similarly doesn’t seem to have an original idea to call his own. His sad assortment of tepid jump scares borrows liberally from such other ill-conceived fright flicks as the Final Destination series and the unendurable Unfriended while also (probably unintentionally) lifting the climax from Don’t Breathe (albeit to drastically diminished effect). More damningly, he violates the maxim established by Val Lewton’s work — and notably dramatized by Kirk Douglas in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and The Beautiful — by showing the audience too much too soon and leaving nothing to the imagination. As if all that weren’t bad enough, he employs the ring itself as one of the laziest visual motifs ever committed to celluloid (not that this was shot on celluloid). He seems to be laboring under the delusion that the more often he shows a circle the more significant it will become, passing the point of diminishing returns well before the first act is over. (At one point, a character drinks a prominently placed Coke Zero because a zero looks like a ring. Get it?) It’s a good thing Gutiérrez didn’t direct The Ring Two or it would’ve been called The Ring TOO just so he could fit one more in.
The performances might be the least objectionable aspect of this debacle, but that’s not to say they’re good. You could be forgiven for thinking that Galecki had too much Big Bang Theory money and Vincent D’Onofrio had too much integrity to stoop to slumming on this level, but you’d be wrong. I could go on for pages about all of the specific details that made me angry I had to sit through this film, but then I’d be doing my audience a disservice on par with the atrocities committed by the filmmakers responsible for this dreck. It should suffice to say that watching Rings won’t kill you — but sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you dumber. Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.