Can a third movie in a series really be considered a reboot? That is a question I found myself pondering while watching Rings. Another question I pondered was “Why does this movie exist?” and “Why was the best sequence in the movie used as a prologue?” and “I should have just watched Get Out instead.” I know that last one isn’t technically a question but I make the rules here so you are just going to have to deal with it.
Rings kicks off in rather spectacular fashion with a soon-to-be victim (or two) of the cursed video tape of Samara Morgan on board an airplane at night flying through a storm. A guy (I don’t remember the character’s name, so I’m going to call him Guy) is noticeably freaking out and a woman across the aisle seeks to calm him down. Guy’s response is the off-putting “Have you heard about this videotape that kills you 7 days after you watch it?” In the list of non-sequiturs to throw out and absolutely stop a conversation in its tracks this one has to rank near the top. After Guy gets up to go to the bathroom the woman remarks to her friend(?) that he’s a weirdo and told her about a lethal videotape. Friend goes pale and she’s all omgnfw I watched that video too! Which you would think maybe she would have mentioned this earlier. I have no idea why Guy or other freaked out woman is on the airplane in the first place and the movie doesn’t seem to care. It just wants to show what would happen if Samara manifested on an airplane and in that lofty goal (zing!) the movie succeeds.
Jump forward two years and Professor Johnny Galecki is buying an old VCR and expositioning to Skye (Aimee Teagarden) that it belonged to a guy that died in a plane crash years before. Hmm, I wonder who that could be? Professor Galecki goes home and finds a videotape in the VCR and then the scene jumps to another set of characters. This time it’s Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe) and after 2 false starts these two will serve as our main characters. Holt is going off to college, Julia is staying behind because “her mother needs her”. At first I thought this was going to have some bearing on the plot but nope, nothing whatsoever comes of this. Anyway, Holt goes off to college and after a couple weeks stops talking to Julia. One night Julia gets a Skype call from Holt’s computer but it’s Skye ranting about trying to find Holt and that “You can’t hide, she’s going to find you!” Julia is freaked out by this so she does the only rational thing which is pack all her shit and leave in the middle of the night to drive 400 miles to Holt’s college and track him down. Seriously. The girl is 18 at best and disappears for days on end without leaving so much as a note. So much for her mother needing her.
Once Julia arrives she quickly puts her Nancy Drew hat on and in no time finds herself at the apartment(?) of Professor Johnny Galecki. It seems that Professor Galecki has been experimenting with exposure to the Samara video to prove the existence of an afterlife. There are charts on the wall detailing how long each student has left before their 7 days are up, distorted photographs, images of the video, and the atmosphere is that of an all night rave. The idea for the experiment is to have someone watch your copy of the video before the curse can complete. They call this person a “tail”. However like all pyramid schemes it seems now they are running out of tails and Holt and Skye are running out of time.
I’ll admit, I was intrigued by this point. The idea of intentionally exposing yourself to the Samara video in order to explore it is a great idea and fertile ground for a reinvention of the series and I was really interested to see where the movie was headed. And then Rings absolutely abandons the idea in favor of another Scooby Doo mystery to answer a question that I swear had already been solved in the last movie. So rather than go down a new narrative path we instead have the standard creepy dream sequences filled with creepy imagery, creepy townsfolk, buried secrets, not so buried corpses, and really overcast Washington state skies. (For this movie the part of Washington will be played by Georgia).
The actors do what they can with the material but when you are following in the footsteps of Naomi Watts there isn’t anywhere to go but down and this cast of B players is simply unable to match the gravitas of the first movie try as they might. Hell, they try mightily to reach the mediocre heights of the second chapter and fail there as well. It doesn’t help that Samara is absent for long stretches to the point where I started to wonder if it wasn’t Samara at all but something else (it’s totally Samara). An un-credited Daveigh Chase appears as the pre-vengeful spirit Samara Morgan in footage taken entirely from The Ring. Despite the bullshit of not giving her a credit in the movie it’s a nice nod to her performance in the far superior The Ring.
Rings isn’t bad, but it is pointless. As a reinvention of the Samara mythos there was so much more that could have been done. The movie takes no risks and does nothing the first two movies haven’t already done better. The finale hints at a new direction for the series but based on the lackluster box office we probably won’t get to see it. Even if that ending is really just bringing the movie back in line with the increasingly bonkers Japanese series the American films are based on.*
*The Ring is a remake of the Japanese film Ringu. Both movies spawned dozens of knockoffs in their respective countries. Although actually they just spawned knockoffs in Japan and than the US remade those knockoffs too. It’s the Hollywood Circle of Life! I have to give the edge to The Ring as the better film overall. Such is the power of Naomi Watts my friends.