Some sequels are inevitable. Others are inexplicable.
Can you guess which category Rings belongs to? Arriving more than a decade after The Ring Two, this new chapter is one of those doomed movies that no one asked for and few have gone to see. Fans of the franchise — which, at its core, still boasts a genuinely chilling premise — will likely follow in the characters’ footsteps and find themselves unable to resist watching. Anyone who does so probably won’t die seven days later, but is apt to regret the decision all the same.
The video in question remains the series’ most frightful element. For the uninitiated and/or forgetful, a refresher: There exists an unmarked VHS tape containing surreal, disturbing imagery that suggests a film student’s approximation of an avant-garde snuff film. A woman brushes her hair in a mirror as a look of concern falls across her face. Trees burn and bugs crawl. And at the end, you see the ring. As soon as it’s over, your phone rings and the voice on the other end says, “Seven days.”
Rings gives the video an update, as it’s now available to watch on laptops and smartphones. The proto–viral video has become more insidious than ever before, its curse now just a click away from finding more victims.
For all that, Rings doesn’t bode well from the beginning, the age of the performers being the first sign that something is amiss. The Ring was unique for featuring an actual adult as its protagonist, let alone one as talented as Naomi Watts; Rings opts instead for a college-age ensemble — no doubt in an attempt to capture that oh-so-sweet millennial market — but its undergrad sensibilities earn a failing grade.
In this latest installment, the original VHS tape has taken on a mythic quality, not least because it’s only viewable on antiquated technology. A rogue professor has formed a sort of secret society based around watching the video and, before the seven days are up, making a copy so someone else can watch it as well — doing so lets the viewer off the clock and begins the process anew for whichever unfortunate soul has seen it most recently. As in the superior It Follows, terror is communicable.
Our heroine this time around is Julia (Matilda Lutz), who’s forced to stay home and care for her ailing (and absent) mother while her boyfriend goes off to college. Unbeknownst to her, his extracurriculars involve a certain club. Intrepid young adult that she is, Julia endeavors to not only rescue her beau by watching the video but also to find out who made it and why — a trip through Ring lore that’s occasionally enlightening but mostly expository. (Turns out that the series, which began in 1998 with Japan’s Ringu, all traces back to a blind priest in rural Washington. Who would have thought?)
The attempt to expand and build on the mythos is both admirable and ill-advised. That professor is using the tape — and the little girl who emerges from the screen to claim her victims once their time is up — as evidence of the afterlife, and here we learn more about both her and her mother. But the impulse to explain is at odds with the impulse to frighten, and the longer this movie (and series) goes on, the less unsettling it becomes.
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki
Theater: Now playing at area theaters