By Jack Dignan
A plane flies through the night sky, hit by a gush of turbulence. A young man sits in his seat, sweating. The girl next to him looks over, trying to start conversation in an attempt to calm him down. “Sometimes it helps to talk,” she assures him, so what does he decide to discuss when on the brink of death in the middle of the air surrounded by dozens of other equally nervous passengers? A video that kills you seven days after you watch it, of course. And what do you know, it turns out he watched said video exactly seven days ago to the minute. It’s not hard to guess what happens to him next. We cut to black. The film has been set up. Or has it?
We fade back in, catching up with a young woman named Skye (Aimee Teegarden) looking through some old objects being sold at a market. It’s here she meets a college professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), who’s a lover of vintage, as he so bluntly points out. Indulging in this love of vintage, Gabriel buys a video player, and when taking it home he discovers a tape inside. This tape? Why, it’s the cursed Rings video. We cut to black again. Two protagonists have been introduced. The title appears. Now the film has been set up, yes? Wrong again, for the real protagonists come in the form of Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), two teenagers who get themselves mixed up in a mystery surrounding the origins of the mysterious murderous video.
With three opening scenes down, only one and a half of which ended up being necessary to the story, the film finally begins. And it all goes even further downhill from there, because somehow that was possible. The Ring franchise has a large history, to say the least, spanning throughout books, foreign films and three American sequels. My first experience with the franchise was with the 2001 American remake from director Gore Verbinski, an unsettling and new take on a story that’s every bit as uncomfortable and terrifying as the premise should be. I never saw the sequel. I didn’t want to. But I did see Rings, the third film, and it’s every bit as bad as you’d expect. A little bit worse, too.
In my experience, when watching bad horror films, no matter just how terrible they may be, there’s usually one scene that’s a little creepy or one concept that has the potential to work. Devil’s Due was my least favourite film of 2014, but even that film managed to bring with it at least a hint or originality. Everything about it failed, never able to step up and become a legitimately scary movie, but it tried. Not once during Rings did my heart race. Not once in Rings did I jump out of my seat. Not once in Rings was an original, unique or somewhat creative idea brought forth. Nothing new is brought to the table in this god-awful excuse for a horror film that fails in every single department. The only scary thing this film brought to the table was Alex Roe’s eyebrows.
Just in terms of the screenplay, Rings fails. If handled in the hands of a more experienced horror director, such as James Wan, and presented with a cast that actually has some sort of acting capabilities, this film still wouldn’t have worked. Nobody, no matter how talented they are in the horror genre, could’ve successfully created something scary based on the script they have to work with. Every line is corny and nonsensical, the characters are walking cardboard cutouts, and I’m not even sure this film tried to at least be a little scary. There’s some grisly imagery, sure, but most of it occurs in flashes, frequently as a dream sequence, so they never stick around long enough to work. That’s about the only effort this film puts in to being a horror film, as the rest of the runtime compromises entirely of walking, talking, running and breaking into places.
Aesthetically speaking, the colour pallet and the set design are devoid of colour, visually draining in the worst way possible. Taking away from the liveliness of reality and replacing it with a bleak outlook at life can work, especially in the genre of horror, but with Rings, every shot is just dull. There’s a distinct lack of creativity to be found here, no effort put into anything. The Conjuring 2 was not only one of the best films of 2016, but I’d even go so far as to say one of the best horror films of all time. The sets, costumes and lighting were all used in a way to effectively increase the tension, playing tricks on your mind and instilling a sense of unease throughout the entire runtime. Rings, on the other hand, feels like the cast and crew just rocked up at whatever location they could book five minutes prior to filming.
An argument could be made that this film is more of a mystery than it is horror, but a rebuttal for the argument is that I don’t think the film meant for that happen. This was, like with previous installments, intended to be a horror, yet it’s unable to make its mind up on what type of horror it wants to be. It’s a muddled movie, trying to unravel the mystery behind this video inside a video (which is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard) while also attempting to be a combination of Don’t Breathe, Poltergeist, the original Ring films, and… Ouija? I don’t know. It’s strange, nothing ever mashing. Rings feels like a first draft. There’s no way somebody rewrote this, making it into a better version of what came before. That implies that effort was put into the making of this movie, and I just find that hard to believe.
Can we discuss Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in this film for a moment? First of all, why did an actor of his caliber even agree to do something as unbearably rubbish as this? But secondly, his character didn’t make an ounce of sense. He goes back and forth between good guy and bad guy, even when it’s finally established with side he rests on. Every second line contradicts the first, his arguments unable to form a shred of cohesion. He does, however, provide the single funniest moment of the entire movie. During what’s meant to be a tense, dramatic moment (but very much isn’t), Julia, who is continuing to use the same single expression she’s used for the entire film, asks him what’s making the cricketing sound. He replies, in the most over dramatic way possible, “cicadas,” and I legitimately couldn’t stop laughing for a solid two minutes.
Full of overbearing plot exposition, a painstaking lack of scares, unlikeable and two dimensional characters, and dialogue that’s some of the worst things your ears will ever be subjected to, Rings easily slots in as the current worst film of 2017. Will it maintain that spot? I sure hope so. Just when the film was starting to wrap up, I checked my watch only to find that there was an hour to go. It wasn’t a fun experience.
0 1/2 Stars
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