Released: 2017
Directed by: F. Javier Gutiérrez

The Ring franchise has been lying dormant for some time in the US market, likely discouraged by the poor performance of The Ring Two upon its release over a decade prior. After the revival of the film series in Japan, with the recent release of Sadako Vs Kayako, a third film in the American series was rescued from development hell and unleashed onto the world – but was it worth the effort?

Rings tells the story of Julia, a teenage girl whose relationship with her boyfriend Holt begins to crumble once he moves away to college. After a cryptic comment about doing an extra credit assignment for his professor, he disappears and refuses to answer her calls for several days. After receiving an unnerving message from a stranger regarding Holt, Julia travels to his school find him, and in doing so, uncovers much more than she expected.

Rings has been met with much critical disappointment for a variety of reasons, and all of them are valid. Rings is not what it could be; it is not even what it should be, given the interesting source material, and the hugely successful first film of the series. While it is a step up from The Ring Two, there are so many flaws that obscure the potential Rings had to actually be something far better than what it ended up as.

One of the most interesting, and squandered, parts of Rings is that it has a vague similarity to Rasen – the Japanese film’s oft-forgotten sequel. Rasen zeroed in on the science fiction aspects of the original story, focusing on themes of infection and reproduction, rather than only on the ghost’s supernatural rage. In Rings, the video and curse both begin to morph after Julia watches it. It cannot be copied, and it shows new footage, something that had never occurred before. This turn of events had tantalizing potential to somehow bring forth the curse’s viral nature, and examine what happens when an infection begins to resist its treatment.

In the same way The Ring uses Rachel to bring a journalistic and investigative attitude to the story, Rings seems, initially, like it wants to bring a scientific mindset on board. While it shows signs of embracing this early on (a biology professor is a prominent character in the first half of the film, and his study of the “Samara Enigma” is heavily featured), this never materializes. Instead the film shifts its focus to the two teenage characters, who seem to have no intellectual curiosity about the nature of the curse, rendering the evolution of the tape nothing more than a plot device. It goes further and swings to the opposite side of the spectrum, bringing in religious overtones throughout the second half of the film, eliminating any scientific slant the story might have had.

The characters are by far the weakest aspect of the film, and more than likely the ultimate reason for its failure. Julia is our story’s protagonist, and she is characterized by selflessness – and literally nothing else. Even that character trait only goes so far, as she is focused almost exclusively on sacrificing herself to save her boyfriend through the majority of the movie, before eventually focusing her attention on “freeing” Samara. Her apparent lack of self preservation is so apparent that even the biology professor makes a snide comment about it – but it’s clear that this trait is meant to endear her to us, even though there seems to be no base for it, or development of Julia beyond that. In fact, Julia has no relationships depicted on screen aside from the one with her boyfriend. He appears to be the center of her world, and the only thing that she thinks about, worries about, or pursues.

Without a substantial character to anchor the story, it has no bite. In The Ring, Rachel is grounded by having a personality, flaws, a career, a family life, as well as previous romantic entanglements, all of which intersect with her pursuit of the truth behind the curse. All of these things provide context for her terror. Rachel being a rounded and developed character gave the audience something to care about, because it was clear that there was something at stake; we wanted her to survive. Julia is a passive wisp of a character whose survival means nothing to us, because her life has no narrative context. She exists to serve the plot, and she simply meanders to wherever the story directs her. Aside from one line early in the film, we have no idea if she has family, and we certainly never see them. She has no friends. She has no interests, no job that we know of, no intellectual pursuits. Only a boyfriend to sacrifice herself for. Even Katie, the girl who dies in the very first scene in the first film, has more character development than Julia does throughout the entire film, and that is an enormous problem.

While the story abandoning its intellectual facade could be forgiven, the second half of the film is still cringe worthy in its choice of sexist tropes. The introduction of a sexually predatory priest character who assaults and keeps a woman locked up in a dungeon, forcing her to later give birth to his child is both upsetting and unoriginal. This is, unsurprisingly, the new story behind Samara’s conception and birth. This part of the story feels unnecessary – not even just for the awful “rape as plot device” inclusion. It actually takes away from the Samara mythos, rather than adds to it, because it reduces her entire character down to nothing more than a series of terrible things culminating in the birth of an evil child. In the first film, Samara was a child that was desperately wanted by her parents, and even deeply loved by her mother, but as her evil nature revealed itself, her powers grew to be too frightening and overwhelming for the people around her.

One final thing, which is more of a missed opportunity than anything, is the presence of some wonderful dramatic irony that is never taken advantage of. Julia and Holt conduct their investigation with the noble idea that they may be able to free Samara’s spirit, giving her peace finally. This is similar to what Rachel does in the first film; the first film makes it clear that Samara will never be at peace, and freedom for her only means more suffering for humanity. The audience should know that Julia and Holt are fighting a losing battle, making their efforts all the more tragic. Instead, it seems like the film tries to actively make the audience forget the revelations of the first film, instead trying to convince us once again that Samara was tragically misunderstood. It spends so much time trying to trick us into sympathizing with Samara that the final twist has no impact – it’s what we’ve been waiting for these characters to realize all along.

All of these criticisms considered, Rings still has some moments that are worthwhile. The scene in which Skye’s seventh day plays out is particularly enjoyable, as is the absurdity of the opening plane crash scene. The concept behind the morphing video was great, and allowed for the filmmakers to get creative with the imagery in it. And in a sea of otherwise bland performances, Johnny Galecki seems to be having fun bringing his snide, obnoxious college professor to life, and he is fun to watch because of it.

Finally, with all of the film’s early similarities with Rasen, it also book ends itself with another prominent plot point from that film: Samara’s rebirth. This would have been an exciting prospect if it wasn’t handled with such clumsy writing, and a little more self awareness. The depiction of a bond between Samara and her chosen vessel could have been chilling if there was more thought given to how it played out. While there are a few fun scares, most of the positives in this movie boil down to one point: there was so much potential in its ideas.

Rating: 2 out of 5. Watchable, but too flawed to find it fully enjoyable.

Scariness level: Pretty meh. The airplane scene is over the top ridiculous and fun, but not scary. Skye’s death is probably the scariest moment, so definitely less than either previous film.

Violence level: Nothing too much more than The Ring. Though the implications of rape and imprisonment are more disturbing than previous films, nothing is explicitly depicted on screen.

Bechdel test: Fails. Julia’s only conversation with a woman involves Skye, and their conversation centers around Holt.

Mako Mori test: Nope. Julia, once again, has no motivation outside of her boyfriend.

Posted on February 22, 2017, in Films and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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