They say in Rings that after you watch it you will definitely die, a fact which (as many on the internet have already pointed out) is true of every movie. The killer VHS horror franchise, originating in Japan with Ringu in 1998, returns this year with the follow-up nobody asked for in Rings. It's been a pivotal 12 years since the last instalment in the franchise, so how does the same techno-horror premise sit in a brave new world of smartphones and Netflix?
As it turns out, not very well at all.
If you are not familiar with the horror franchise, Rings is centred on a videotape that is haunted by a vengeful spirit named Samara. Viewers who dare sit through the unnerving montage of flies, hair-brushing and ladders then get a phone call that helpfully reminds them that they will die in seven days. The only way to lift the curse is to duplicate the tape and share it with someone else, and so the cycle continues.
In Rings, directed by F. Javier Gutierrez, an edgy university professor (Johnny Galecki from The Big Bang Theory) has channelled this phenomenon into his own unorthodox study, roping in his students to watch the video and then monitoring them in the hopes of proving the existence of the soul. It's an intriguing addition to the narrative - moral complexities and power ahoy - but completely botched as the focus moves away from the experiment to two characters in a race against time.
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This is where Rings loses whatever potential fizz it had in its grasp, dumping the best plotlines straight into the landfill along with the defunct VHS technology it so desperately needs to survive. The film becomes focused on a 20-something named Julia (Matilda Lutz), who foolishly watches the video to save the life of her boyfriend Holt (Alex Anthony). Who is Julia? We don't ever really find out. She lives in a small town, there's something to do with her mum happening. She doesn't have a job or go to school. From the outset, it's pretty clear that Rings isn't concerned with fleshing out anything about anyone involved.
As Julia begins to see more and more secret messages in the video, the pair set about on a wild goose chase to make sense of the clues. Rings becomes clunkier by the minute, as it becomes very clear the film is headed in the exact same direction as the original. Jump-scares are sign-posted with neon lights, resulting in one of the biggest frights being when someone opens an umbrella quite loudly. Aside from one particularly chilling claustrophobic vision inside a tomb, the special effects that once breathed life into the iconic ghoul Samara now look tired and predictable. There's nothing scary about a ghost girl trying to squeeze her way out of a smartphone.
Rings is cursed from the outset, doomed by the same technology in which the franchise once thrived. Copying the VHS contents into an MP4 file opens up a world for horrific large-scale disasters, a potential avenue that is alluded to in the opening plane crash scene and then abandoned. We are left with haunted file sharing and spooky inboxes, a much harder arena to elicit anything other than groans or laughs. There is nothing scary about someone gasping and saying "the copied file is bigger than the original file!" Just like the retiring of the VHS player in favour of less clunky options, it might be time for this franchise to hit the scrap heap.
Screening now, Rated M