Wednesday 1 November 2017

Rings (2017) - Movie Review

Release Date: February 23, 2017 (AUS)
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller
Director: F. Javier GutiƩrrez
Writers: David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aime Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan

Plot: Julia, while trying to discover where her boyfriend Holt has disappeared to, discovers a video on his computer. The infamous video that is the domain of Samara, now freed from her VHS confines and discovering new attention in the age of file-sharing. After receiving her courtesy phone call that she is a week from death, she sets out to discover the secrets behind the video and who exactly Samara is, leading to a discovery of a video-within-the-video that has never been seen before.

Acting: When it comes to less-than-satisfactory horror films, there are usually two modes of acting that most of them stick to: Loathsome characters that we are meant to be emotionally detached from so that we don’t feel bad when bad things happen to them, or cardboard cut-outs that achieve the same effect by making us fail to care if bad things happen to them. We’re very much in the latter category for the most part with this one. Lutz is rather plain and lifeless throughout, even once the creepy stuff starts happening, Roe matches her in most scenes while at least trying to give the film some drama, Galecki as the professor/leader of a cult surrounding Samara’s tape is okay if hideously underutilized, and Bonnie Morgan continues her stint as Samara from The Ring Two and is honestly still pretty scary. The only person here who consistently puts any effort in is D’Onofrio as a blind groundskeeper. His talent for character acting remains incredibly underrated and he imbues this largely expository role with quite a bit of unorthodox menace.

Liked: Uh… yeah, I honestly got nothing for this one. I can’t even go with a facetious positive; that’s how underwhelming this is.

Disliked: The core notion of this film involving secrets that we haven’t seen before is quite laughable, considering how similar this is to the last two American Ring films. After all of the character background we’ve gotten about Samara in the past, you’d think that the filmmakers would focus more on her as a source of chills rather than as a source of pathos. But no, we just have to put another coat of paint onto her origin story to give the illusion that the story is moving forward as it keeps spinning its wheels in the mud. Hell, the tidbits we do learn this time around end up contradicting what we’ve already learnt about her. You’d think that, between this and the shameless recycling of plot beats (Woman watches video, spends most of the film haunted by Samara, goes to Samara’s hometown to discover who she was, etc.), the writers actively wanted us to forget that any other iteration of this story exists in the West. Of course, that’s a tall order considering how inferior it is as a basic horror film.

The scares are embarrassingly lame. Apart from re-using imagery and scares whole-cloth from the first two films (and likely the Japanese iterations), we have a gallery of jump scares put together in a vain attempt to startle the audience. Of course, whether you loath the advent of jump scares or not, it’s difficult to be really affected by them when they are this painfully telegraphed. The tension is razor-thin and blunt as a butter knife, likely as a result of the feeling of repetition that comes from how much of this film is taken from previous works. But that shouldn’t automatically be a bad thing: No matter the genre, every film is a combination of familiar elements; originality is not only rare but far less necessary than higher-brow filmgoers would have us believe. However, when dealing with a film that is so unsure of its own efficacy that it has to repeat history in order to seem relevant, you start to wonder why this film was made to begin with or, more importantly, why we’re watching it.

The idea of The Ring itself has only grown in relevancy in the Internet age. Sharing disturbing and weird videos to other people within a week of discovering it? Samara was basically the original creepypasta. This head-start for the series’ technophobic themes seems to have eluded the filmmakers because, quite frankly, this plot feels like it didn’t even need to be a Ring sequel. Even with the detours The Ring Two took with its possession premise, at least that still felt like it was a part of the same story. Despite all the plot and thematic retreading that is found here, the original notion of a videotape that kills you a week after watching it barely factors in.
Instead, it’s used as a flimsy excuse for what amounts to an American Gothic horror yarn that, even when removed from its ties with The Ring, is still underwhelming. What’s more, it’s underwhelming for the same reason as the scares: The plot twists are surprisingly obvious with this one. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve never seen a film so dependent on a single word to deliver its climactic shock… and yet, I was able to guess it as soon as it was alluded to, resulting in an absolute thud of an ending.

Of course, the film starts out with a couple of decent ideas, like the opening airplane crash and the sort of cult that has grown around the videotape and how it is meant to be part of some techno-pagan vision quest. However, neither of these ideas hold any weight, which kind of sucks because they are the only sparks of life in this entire production. The airplane crash is executed okay, even if it barely factors into the main story like most opening kills, and the cult is barely elaborated on. They had a sub-plot that, on its own, could have legitimized the fact that we’re getting a follow-up to a film that is rather ingrained in antiquated technology, and yet they seem to have no idea of how to use it properly. The film ends up throwing us around the narrative timeline with how suddenly time passes within the first third of the film, and yet it never gets into the genuinely promising ideas that such a group could offer the story. Then again, when you have the king of hack writers Akiva Goldsman batting clean-up for your script, this is the kind of half-cooked result you get.

Final Thoughts: The worst sin a horror movie can commit is being boring, and that isn’t even the worst of it where this film is concerned. This is a film that almost feels embarrassed that it even exists, between the frequent re-use of past ideas and a complete failure to flesh out its own. Add to this a very dull cast, save for Vincent D’Onofrio who at least seems to be trying, and a thoroughly underwhelming attempt at tension and chills and you have a film that shows why the Japanese remake trend died off during the 2000’s: Apparently, we’ve all just given up.

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