“A new chapter in the beloved RING horror franchise. A young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before.”
February 3, 2017
David Loucka and Jacob Estes
F. Javier Gutiérrez
Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laura Wiggins, and Aimee Teegarden
Rings, the 3rd installment of the American The Ring franchise based on the J-Horror megahit Ringu, reminds us what makes Asian horror movies so unique. It also reminds us that remakes of films from the Far East are hit and miss: Amazing when adapted successfully, messy and unsatisfying when botched. Those who enjoyed for first The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, will definitely appreciate Rings, which is absolutely a return to the series’ roots after a disappointing stumble with The Ring Two, directed by Hideo Nakata, in 2005. On the flipside, those who never connected with The Ring or American attempts at interpreting J-Horror won’t be won over by it.
Official Synopsis: “A new chapter in the beloved RING horror franchise. A young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before.”
Rings is directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez from a script penned by Jacob Aaron Estes. The film stars Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laura Wiggins, and Aimee Teegarden.
Let’s start by putting The Ring franchise into a proper historical context. J-Horror was a big fad in the early 2000s; it was part of major shift in the horror landscape following 9/11, when fear was being redefined and trends were moving away from previously established slasher tropes. The gloomy aesthetic and pervasive sense of dread was fitting in a society still struggling to put a face to nebulous 21st Century anxieties. The Ring was released at a perfect time to ride this wave, along with a slew of other Asian horror remakes like The Grudge, One Missed Call, and Shutter.
But the J-Horror fad didn’t last in America; while the subgenre still enjoys as massive fan base stateside, the fever has definitely cooled. Part of the problem was that Asian horror movies aren’t easy to adapt for western audiences; there are vast differences in terms of the ways each culture views death, karma, and the supernatural. Indeed, there is much more of an automatic acceptance of paranormal themes in Asian horror movies, not surprising in societies where reincarnation is a common belief. Asian horror also differs greatly from western cinema in terms of storytelling, where nonlinear and surrealist methods are often employed (methods American audiences seem to find mightily irksome).
Now let’s put Rings into context in terms of its place within the franchise. As I mentioned previously, The Ring Two was a huge disappointment, which is kind of ironic because it was a very “true” sequel: It picks up soon after the first film concluded and features the same characters (played by the same actors). While the film could be a textbook study of cinematic representations of post-partum depression, it drifted from many of the elements that made its predecessor so fantastic: The examination of the innate evils of technology, the cursed video tape, the tense 7-day countdown, and the moral struggle of passing the “curse” on to someone else.
Rings is a return to the taut, techno-based horror of The Ring and brings the franchise thoroughly into the 21st Century—which was frankly necessary for the series’ survival. The shackles of a video tape and land-lines have been cast off, as Samara makes the jump from analog to digital. Old themes are new again in an era of computer viruses and fiber-optic intrusions, where the original curse becomes a disease capable of peer-to-peer transition via the internet. Just as GPS software installed in our phones makes it possible for NSA satellites to nail down our location, Online-Samara has a seemingly limitless reach when cyber-enabled. Whether intentional or not, Rings is also a return to prominent J-Horror tropes, where supernatural entities seek gateways through new medium: Think Pulse.
For all its innovation, however, Rings is another solid, “true” sequel to the original, adding to Samara’s mythology, similar to the revelations made in Ring Two. No, don’t expect Rachel (Naomi Watts) or Aiden (David Dorfman) to show up and save the day (which is for the best; let’s be honest: That relationship was getting dull), but we learn a lot more about Evelyn, Samara’s biological mother played by Sissy Spacek in 2005. It’s a shame Spacek couldn’t (or wouldn’t) return to reprise her role, because her character is given incredible depth, explaining why she appeared like a raving lunatic in Two—and the cause of her damage is shocking. Samara, it seems, was born of agony.
Rings is most compelling when it focuses on a sort of “Cult of Samara”, a college study seeking proof of an afterlife. The biggest innovation is a “film within the film” that serves as a blueprint for either salvation or enslavement. Matilda Lutz is a capable lead as Julia, a young woman whose connection to Samara appears to go beyond the typical victim relationship. Her journey becomes complex as the film progresses, keeping attentive horror aficionados on our toes. We want her to complete her mission, but experience has taught us that those who sympathize with Samara end up paying dearly for their kindnesses. There’s uneasiness throughout as we wonder if Julia should work to liberate the tormented spirit, or twist the lock ever tighter.
It’s not a perfect movie: There are pacing issues and the relationship between Julia and her boyfriend Holt (played by Alex Roe) is saccharine. I think the story would have been more compelling as a search for Julia’s missing boyfriend as opposed to a romantic paranormal detective duo. But even as an overall success, one is left to wonder if films like Rings will have a place in the future of American horror, or if this type of J-Horror protégé will hence forth be considered niche, an anomaly. Time will tell—probably sooner than later: Rings hints at a catastrophic acceleration of Samara’s wickedness, right before the credits role.
Bottom Line: Rings is a return to the techno-terror, J-Horror roots of Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, sure to please fans of J-Horror and American remakes. The gloomy aesthetic and pervasive dread makes for a perfect trip into the genre’s darker fringes. If you’re not a fan of Asian horror already, this one won’t win you over—but what do you expect?