Released in 2002, The Ring is a solid horror mystery directed by Gore Verbinksi with a terrific performance by Naomi Watts. It is a simple, effective story about a detective who needs to solve a murder mystery before she dies in seven days. You care about her character and feel the weight of time as she struggles to piece things together. Alas, I am not reviewing The Ring, but it’s ugly, unwanted stepchild.
Rings is the antithesis of its predecessor, and not in any good or admiring ways. It’s atrociously awful. Its only virtue is the cinematography from Sharone Meir (Whiplash) which frankly it doesn’t deserve.
The writing is splintered, cliché, and so on-the-nose it’s like a child wrote it. The characters are hollow and mindless plot devices. The jump scares are endless. In no way is this movie scary or compelling and is a total waste of time. The only reason it made it to the theater, and not direct to digital, is name recognition.
Written by David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and Akiva Goldsman, and directed by F. Javier Gutierrez, Rings starts years after The Ring when a young woman tries to find her missing boyfriend and gets caught in a scheme to make people watch a tape that will kill you in seven days.
Sharone Meir uses the right lighting and colors at the right times, providing much-needed emotion and weight to the story. His cinematography gives the film an atmosphere like the original. So, in that way, they connect and feel like the same universe. Unfortunately, this is the only thing the film has going for it — a solid production team that knows how to make a movie look good. But that’s not even close to enough to save this film.
It’s rare that I sit down in a theater, see the first three minutes of a film, and know without a doubt it’s going to be a train wreck. I always try to give a film the benefit of the doubt and keep suspicion at bay until the end credits.
Here’s how I knew: the opening dialogue’s blatant exposition. Good filmmakers can get away with this in clever ways. In fact, most dialogue is just clever exposition. But in this case, the writing is lazy and so awkward it’s hard not to laugh. Much like this entire movie, the opening scene is just unnecessary. Chances are more than half the audience are fans of The Ring. The other half will easily pick up on the mythos later in the story. Why would you open up your film with sloppy exposition that has no value?
This is the second, most atrocious part of this film. The writers explain everything in the dialogue even when it’s clear from the imagery and actions of the characters. Explaining the obvious is obnoxious in real life, why would it ever be a good idea in a film? Yet, all too often when something is totally clear, the main character speaks in poorly written dialogue what is happening at the current moment, spoon feeding the audience like children unable to make simple deductions.
If you didn’t notice, the screenplay has three writers in the credits. Now, that isn’t always a bad sign, but in this case, it’s telling. Too often the story feels splintered and cracked like there are too many cooks in the kitchen with all sorts of ideas. The inciting incident is passable. Julia (Matilda Lutz) finds out over video chat that her college boyfriend has gone missing.
Instead of just calling the police, she hops in her car to go find him. She goes to his college, breaks into his room and tries to solve a mystery like she’s Sherlock Holmes. Nothing is revealed about her character. She’s a blank slate. It’s awkward that she’s taking so much effort and energy to try to hunt down her boyfriend rather than do what most people do – call the police.
Of course, the clues are clearly laid out, bringing her from one place to the other with ease until she travels enough from one place to the next (in one day she goes from dorm room, classroom, elevator and creepy underground science experiment lab) to find out what her boyfriend has been up to.
A professor found the tape where you die in seven days if you watch it and he’s set up a science experiment where you can transfer your consciousness to the spirit world (that is for real a concept in this story that didn’t last very long). Her boyfriend is involved. But suddenly, by the second act, that plot is dropped like a bad habit. Instead, the story turns to her playing Nancy Drew and going back to Samara’s old town to solve the mystery before she dies (you know, the exact plot of The Ring)
Except, this time the acting is bad and the story is like watching a fan fiction that just plagiarized the original but merely tweaked a few things. I’ll be honest. The second half is much more entertaining than the first, but once you realize they’re just rehashing the original story it becomes agonizing.
All the characters are hollow plot devices with bad actors trying to portray them. Some of the actors are better than others, but most spoke in monotone voices, gave poor line delivery and could not emote correctly if they tried. The only likable character (who should have been the main character) is Professor Gabriel played by Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), but even then, his character is one dimensional and could have easily been fleshed out more.
In some ways, this goes back to the splintered storytelling. At first the story is set up like you’ll be following Galecki around, but instead, they switch over to Julia’s boring story and character. If your aim is to scare people, then job one is getting the audience to care about your characters. Julia is a lifeless, empty shell with no personality and nothing to make her likable. Her story is so far-fetched and stupid you’ll likely lose interest within minutes. It makes little sense that they chose her character over Gabriel’s.
I’ll just get right down to it. Rings is unnecessary, not worth your time and money and should have been shelved in some dark studio basement. And it’s unfortunate. Rather than building upon a franchise that has potential, the studio went the easy route and took a cash grab opportunity. Don’t fall for their tricks and don’t see this movie. If you’re craving a horror, maybe go see Split.
Photos courtesy of: Paramount Pictures