Julia and Holt (Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe) are young lovers now separated as Holt has gone to an out-of-town college while Julia stays home to take care of her ailing mother. The pair keeps in touch with nightly Skype calls but after a few months, Holt stops calling. After getting a frantic Skype call from a girl named Skye (Aimee Teegarden) on Holt’s account, Julia decides to go find Holt. She stops first at a lecture given by Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a professor for whom Holt had expressed admiration. Gabriel initially pretends to not remember Holt and Julia follows him to a room filled with students and images of others that appear warped. She overhears a conversation between Gabriel and Skye. Skye is upset and concerned for her safety. Gabriel assures her everything will be alright and to make a copy and find a tail. Confused, Julia follows Skye to her car and asks about Holt’s whereabouts. Skye tells her she knows where he is but she has to come to her home and see something. At Skye’s house, Julia notices text messages coming from Holt. She tells Holt where she is and he tells her not to watch any videos Skye might show her. Julia locks herself in a room of the house and hears odd noises coming from the other side of the door. When it quiets down, Julia opens the door to find Skye sitting in a chair dead with her face contorted in an unnatural way. Holt shows up at Skye’s house and the pair checks into a motel where Holt explains about the video of a little girl in a well and after you watch it your phone rings with a little girl on the other end that says “seven days.” At the end of the seven days, you die. Gabriel believes the video is proof of the existence of a soul and of the afterlife. He’s seen the video and passed it along to other people. As long as you make a copy and someone else watches it your seven day deadline is postponed. The person you show it to is called a “tail.” The last person that sees it needs to find a tail before their seven days is up to stop their countdown. Concerned for Holt’s life, Julia decides to watch the video. While on the phone listening to the girl say “seven days,” Julia begins to see visions of a room with a bolted metal door. The handset overheats and burns a pattern into her hand. Holt and Julia then go to Gabriel and explain she has watched the video. He says she needs a tail but Julia refuses to show the video to anyone; but she agrees to make a copy of the video just in case. When she tries to copy the video she discovers the video she watched has more information embedded in the frames. Gabriel is able to make the information available and Julia watches it. From the extra video the group discovers there is a mystery that needs to be solved that might possibly save their lives.
As with most film franchises, the more entries there are the worse they become. “Rings” continues that sorry tradition with a convoluted story, bad acting and a monster that has far too many rules and requirements in order to collect victims.
The basic premise of “Rings” is rather complicated: Watch a video, get a phone call, try to get more people to watch the video to postpone your death, try to get those people to get more people to watch the video, etc., etc., etc. It strains the even tenuous credibility of a horror movie. Add to that the outdated VCR/video cassette technology that apparently must be the original point of infection and you see how “Rings” is nearly dead on arrival (pardon the expression).
A good story and compelling characters might have saved the movie but writers David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes and Akiva Goldsman only manage to come up with a mystery about the backstory of Samara, the girl at the bottom of the well. It’s not necessarily a bad choice to make as there’s only so much you can do to freshen up the third installment of a film franchise. Sadly, the mystery isn’t very well conceived as it requires a great deal of correct guesses and coincidences to solve. I appreciate the effort but the execution comes up lacking.
The acting in “Rings” is largely amateurish. Both Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe only stretch their acting muscles in one direction, nailing the “deer in headlights” look over and over again as insanity presents itself before them.
Johnny Galecki doesn’t seem to have a tight grasp on his character’s motivation. He never plays the role of the college professor that starts off the video infection as smarmy or callous enough to be effective. He is fine in the role but doesn’t work nearly as hard to sell the part as he does his character on “The Big Bang Theory.”
The only actor that seems to truly pour himself into the role is Vincent D’Onofrio as the blind cemetery groundskeeper Burke (yes, you read that right). D’Onofrio always looks for little bits of business to flesh out his characters no matter how small the role. He does the same here. It is a small but pivotal part that proves to be the singular shining light in an otherwise dreary film.
“Rings” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality, brief drug material and violence/terror. Not much terror to speak of. The people Samara kills look like they’ve been submerged in water for a few days and have distorted faces. There is a car crash that results in a death. There are a few scenes of violence involving the death of Samara as well as an attack using a heavy cane. There is a very brief scene of a character smoking a joint. The sexuality involves Julia and Holt rolling around in bed both mostly clothed. Child abuse and holding a person prisoner are discussed. Foul language is mild and rare.
“Rings” uses many of the tried and true horror movie tropes in an effort to scare its audience. They are so over used they have become ineffective: Tense music, moments of silence broken by a sudden loud noise, dark settings, squeaking doors revealing pitch black rooms and several more are put to work in the film and none produces more than a slight jump scare. Add in the messy storytelling and high school-level acting and you have a sometimes tedious third film in a franchise that needs to be retired. While I appreciate the history/mystery aspect of the plot it can’t save what is a premise that needs to be thrown back to the bottom of the well from which it came.
“Rings” gets two stars out of five.
Fifty Shades Darker—
John Wick: Chapter Two—
The LEGO Batman Movie—
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