In 2002 Gore Verbinski made what is arguably one of the best horror films of the 21st century in the form of J-horror remake “The Ring”. His film was atmospheric, well-paced, mysterious, and tinged in a bleak shade of grey. It was a race against time as lead woman Naomi Watts uncovered the secret behind a killer video tape in order to stave off a vengeful spirit, and it still holds up to this day.
On premise alone “The Ring” sounds slightly ridiculous, but the way that the tape acted as a death sentence was novel, and it created a tangible sense of intrigue. The story unfolded methodically as things went from bad to worse over a seven day period, and the film was as much about delving into Samara’s backstory as it was about scaring the audience. It was an intelligent take on the horror genre, and Hideo Nakata’s sequel was good too, so it’s a shame that this entry into the series was wholly unnecessary.
In my opinion, the biggest problem with “Rings” is that director Francisco Javier Gutiérrez doesn’t seem to have any sort of grasp on what made Verbinski’s film successful. Verbinski had a fascinating story to tell, but he also knew how to make the most of his premise – he used the passage of time in the film to set the stakes, and he let the urgency of the situation shine through which in turn made Samara’s eventual appearance feel inescapable.
The great thing about the horror genre is that it allows writers and directors to push themes to their extremes and address universal fears that we aren’t always comfortable facing. The idea of Samara as a death sentence is the perfect example of this because she’s frightening in and of herself as a traditional movie monster, but there’s also an implicit issue that the promise of her arrival presents which is that death is inevitable and we’ll do anything to delay it.
Gutiérrez doesn’t seem to see this, or at least if he does he isn’t interested in letting the audience in on the secret. His film doesn’t share the same foreboding tone as its predecessors, nor does it maintain the same visual harshness or understated performances that those movies had. At no point do the characters seem to take their situation seriously, at least not to the degree that they should given that their lives are literally on the line, and it’s almost laughable how mundane Gutiérrez has managed to make an iconic horror villain. As a child and even into my teenage years I couldn’t sleep in the same room as a television because of “The Ring”, yet whilst watching this film I found myself joking with my brother while Samara was on screen!
In reality, “Rings” doesn’t feel like a sequel to “The Ring” at all – it shares the villain and the basic premise, but there’s no overlap in the features that are of real significance. The way that the passage of time is presented in “The Ring” is completely ignored, as is the tension that it created, and it’s never even clear how much time the leading lady has left once she watches the tape. You can guess if you feel like paying attention, but the way that the film develops doesn’t necessitate that you even bother to keep your eyes open!
Any notion of respecting the source material is thrown out of the window during the first scene, as a character we’ll never see again finds himself on a plane at the very moment when his life is due to end at Samara’s hands. This in itself is actually a fun idea, because if the character in question doesn’t believe that the curse is real then of course he’ll have no problem with being on a plane seven days after watching the tape. However, the issue I have with this scene as a whole is that it just isn’t scary! The music which accompanies it feels like it belongs in a cheap action flick rather than an atmospheric horror film, and it confuses the movie’s tone immediately. As a scene it feels like something which was thought up by a marketing team as a nice clip to lodge into the middle of a trailer, and it bears no significance to the rest of the movie at all!
Moreover, Gutiérrez disrespects the returning audience by rehashing Samara’s backstory through superfluous exposition, and on top of this the writers try to pass off a cheap plot point as a hidden revelation in order to make the film feel like a worthwhile sequel. This is more idiotic than it is insulting, because it’s frankly absurd that the studio and the director felt that they needed an excuse to revisit a modern horror classic. I’m not the biggest fan of remakes and sequels, but I think that on paper it made sense to bring back the franchise considering that we’ve made substantial technological advancements since 2005.
The idea of the tape going viral is one that genuinely interests me, even if it does sound like it could be the product of an out-of-touch corporate executive trying to appeal to a youthful audience. There are things that can be done with that premise and a film based around such an outlandish idea could be fun. I’m not saying that it would be good, but it wouldn’t feel as depressingly pointless as this film felt.
The best part of the film, for me personally, was when the screen at my local cinema completely stopped working. I’m not exaggerating when I say that halfway through the film the screen cut out, the lights flickered, and the theatre fell into darkness. There was a power outage which caused our screen and a few others to go down, so we were sat staring at a black screen in the dark waiting for something to happen. Most of the people in the screening found this quite funny, including myself, and we all had a good laugh about the situation.
I’m not lying when I say that this was the highlight of the film for me, and it plays into how ineffective “Rings” was at doing its job – i.e. scaring people – because nobody so much as flinched even though we were watching a film about a murderous spirit that comes out of a television screen. It was a situation that should’ve sparked pandemonium, yet it triggered sarcastic laughter.
With that anecdote out of the way it should be clear what I thought of this film. “The Ring” is one of my all-time favourite horror movies – to this day I remember watching it with my family in Devon, and I’ll never forget how my cousin called the house phone immediately after it finished to mimic Samara by whispering ‘seven days’. I really do love the original film and I have it on DVD in my house along with its sequel. Sadly, “Rings” is an insult to both of those films and to the integrity of filmmaking in general; it’s cheap, lazy, and ignorant to what made the source material great, so it really isn’t worth your time.