Rings - Review: A Lower Quality Recording
It wasn’t too long ago that the last ever VCR came off a factory floor in Japan. While streaming is awesome and “yay” to progress, I can’t be the only one that found this a little sad. Sure, it wasn’t perfect and VideoPlus operated on its own time zone but it was heart of a foregone era in media freedom and the affectionate charms of recording your own copies off the TV (including strategic pausing during commercials). Even now, when I watch something like Star Wars or Aliens, I can still remember exactly where the add breaks used to kick in on my old recorded tapes. Yet after hearing that news, such a bittersweet moment of reflection was followed by a more specific question, ”So how would a Ring movie work now?”. Could you realistically spread a killer video tape when nobody has a VCR anymore? Well now, we get to find out as the franchise circles back around following a 12 year absence for Rings.
13 Years after her body was discovered in the well, the evil spirit Samara and her killer videos are still claiming victims. When Julia (Matilda Lutz - Italian cinema) watches to save her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe – The 5th Wave), she sees all new footage that sends them on a deadly journey of discovery.
Split rings; this one goes right down the middle. The film has an almost bipolar nature. At times, it’s a dull and unimaginative drudging out of existing material. Yet at others, it’s creative and genuinely adds to the existing series lore. This is best summed up in the opening airplane sequence. A card-carrying Samara fan club member is hitting his 7 day time out while in the air. On the surface, that’s awesome and conjures up kinds of imagery over how that will play out in such a combined and densely populated space with TV screens everywhere....just as that starts to happen, we cut away being deprived of a potentially spectacular set piece. Once the story gets going (the first act is prime nap territory), it really has some good ideas within its revolutions from the cult college research club (headed by Big Bang’s Leonard/ Johnny Galecki) to the main story expanding on Samara’s origins and family history. The use of this miraculously “found footage” feels like a cheap bootleg at first but gets better when further ideas are introduced. It also plays well into the characterisation of Samara by using her tortured life. This is a far better story than 2005s The Ring Two and the new footage allows it to follow a similar tracking to the 2002 US original of investigation based mystery without just re-hashing the same clues all over again. Speaking of films gone by Rings definitely views itself as a straight (all be it belated) sequel rather than a reboot and as such, makes a lot of assumptions about viewer knowledge. If you’re new to the franchise, I’d strongly watching the first film before giving Rings a spin.
The biggest reason you shouldn’t put a ring on it? There are surprisingly few moments where Rings actually feels like a full-fledged horror movie. In franchise tradition, it carries plenty of unnerving imagery courtesy of its weird ass clips reel but save the odd jump scare. Most intended horror sequences struggle for a lack of originality and predictability. Despite the inclusion of more modern technology, there’s very little here that existing franchise fans won’t have already seen and be considerably less shocked by. In fact, you call it a re-run. Any newbies tuning in will see that effect lessened but even so, it still feel tamer than many notable works of this decade best summed up by a section mirroring last year’s Don’t Breathe at only a fraction of the quality. Ultimately, Rings is still trying to be a VCR in 2017, hoping to get by more on retro charm and fond memories than picture quality. Then, there’s the central pairing. Although the film takes a similar investigation based journey to its point of origin, this pair of young newcomers has nothing on the likes of Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson. It might be a harsh point to circle in red but the comparison is highly noticeable...... as is the drop in budget. The CG merging dream/vision sequences in particular frequently give Rings the look and feel of a generic modest budget horror flick rather than something of a decent franchise pedigree. The kind of mediocre horror film that often gets chucked into a January/February release date.
At times, I found completely disengaging yet at others, quite captivating. It’s best with a desire for nostalgia rather than scares and thrills from those that used to joyfully prank call their mates whispering,”7 days”….. and it gets mandatory bonus points for featuring Vincent D'Onofrio (Daredevil). It ends curiously in that while it rounds off this story with an obvious yet still enjoyable twist; it’s difficult to see where they could go for a 4th offering. Expect a diamond ring and you’ll get coal but as a horror methadone fix, this could keep you ticking over until the next big film comes along.