A static home video appears on an innocuous box television set, revealing an underground well set against the backdrop of an indistinguishable forest. Slowly, a girl with long, black hair guarding a disturbingly disfigured face begins to emerge. At a steady pace, she makes her way towards the screen.
Fans of Hideo Nakata’s original Japanese horror flick, “Ring,” and Gore Verbinski’s 2002 American version of the same film, “The Ring,” can tell you the tragic end of those who are unfortunate enough to watch this strange home video. The mysterious girl in the tape is named Samara Morgan, and her role in this popular supernatural storyline has caught the attention of ghost geeks for the past two decades. Now, fans of the cult horror films can watch a more detailed backstory of Samara unfold in F. Javier Gutiérrez’s latest film, “Rings.”
Instead of offering an array of adrenaline-spiking scares, Gutiérrez builds his story around a surprisingly complex plot. Nevertheless, the intricacy of the storyline struggles in masking the film’s hokey and humdrum writing and its total lack of strong acting performances.
Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) appears to halfway embrace his role as the college professor, Gabriel, who discovers Samara’s cursed video in an old VCR. But college sweethearts Holt and Julia, portrayed by Alex Roe and Matilda Lutz, seem to drag the story down with their monotone performances. The couple becomes entangled in Gabriel’s research-based experimentations that involve watching Samara’s video before passing the same tape onto their friends, thus ensuring that this disturbing cycle continues.
Essentially, every person who watches the video can save themselves by letting unsuspecting friends view the video. Otherwise, anyone who watches the tape will have merely seven days left to live.
Remaining stoic and ambiguous throughout the film, Lutz may as well have been continuously holding the script in front of her ineffectual gaze. Considering her importance to the story’s plot, viewers would certainly benefit from a better portrayal.
“Rings” offers a generous amount of shoddy writing. Viewers see the script at its worse during the opening scene, when a shaky and sweaty young man abruptly asks the stranger sitting next to him on a plane if she has seen Samara’s video. When she admits she’s seen it, chaos ensues as Samara’s ghost sends the plane full of passengers crashing to the ground. Although there is a small connection between this sequence and the rest of the film, the scene comes across as nothing more than a weak ex-ploit of the plot’s main focus.
Aside from the film’s cheap dialogue and lukewarm characterization, Gutiérrez offers audiences a detailed and disturbing account of Samara’s beginnings as the abandoned daughter of an abused teenage mom.
Elements of Samara’s story, such as details about her mother’s sad fate, unfold themselves in unique ways, bringing Holt and Julia to the small town where the girl’s grave lies. In this sense, it is certainly enthralling to see eerie connections manifest themselves between people and places in unexpected ways. Julia’s unforeseen connection to the story’s narrative, as it is revealed at the end, gives the story an interesting twist and establishes “Rings” as the precursor to more films in the franchise.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s darkest aspects are irresistibly unsettling. While the film lacks the jumps and jolts that constitute a typical horror film, Gutiérrez allows audience’s fear to be fed by an interest in the eerie connections that link Julia’s spooky experiences with Samara’s unnatural childhood.
Frightening, sacrilegious videos stimulate viewers’ fear and plant dread in the hearts of the film’s characters and audiences alike. The scenes that possess any trace of terror deliver adequate chills for those craving an adrenaline jolt.
While “Rings” contains moments of intriguing and spooky plot twists, it evidently struggles to keep up with other well-crafted films within its genre. In one particular scene, while Holt is chatting with a woman about Samara’s disturbing past, the cryptic lady remarks with a hint of reserved dread, “There are some jokes you just shouldn’t make.” While this statement may not apply to the whole film, it could be relevant to the writing and casting decisions.
Perhaps Gutiérrez should take a few tips from this franchise’s original films before crafting another addition to Samara’s cyclical tale of horror.