So… Rings is a thing; that exists… in 2017. Uhmm, yeah… Hmm…
For starters, it’s been no big secret that Paramount Studios has been trying to get a third American Ring film made for over decade, despite the poor reception of 2005’s The Ring Two – yeah, I forgot that existed too. When the film finally got back on track, soon went into production, and was eventually ready to be released (nevermind the fact that it was about a decade late to the party), Rings kept getting its release date pushed back further and further, and these announcements would always come at times it seemed to get closer to the date whenever it was supposed to premiere. That all brings us here to early 2017, where at least half a dozen near-masterpieces to utter brilliant pieces of filmmaking are fighting for the same theater space per awards season rules, and now a major studio is expecting you to pass on the likes of La La Land or Manchester by the Sea and instead pay money for a half-assed, belated addition to a horror franchise that died off over ten years ago. Genius marketing strategy there, folks.
I won’t get into basic plot details here much, since most people who have any interest in seeing this film at all probably already know the central gimmick of this whole franchise. So I’ll just list of all the things that were genuinely good about Rings (don’t worry, this won’t take long).
– The cast for the most part is fine. Nobody stands out as especially good or bad, they all just kind of fulfill their extremely cliched roles and get the job done. Vincent D’onofrio makes a third act appearance and he’s pretty entertaining, but doesn’t have enough screentime to make a lasting impression on the rest of the film.
– They actually reused older themes and music from Hans Zimmer’s score to the 2002 film. While musical score continuity is essentially dead in regards to most current film franchises, it was nice and unexpected to hear some of the previously established music from the past films being re-purposed for this one.
– It has a fairly distinctive all-green visual color palette that compliments the attempted sense of dread and foreboding, but it wears thin pretty fast and starts looking uglier as the film goes on.
– There’s at least an attempt at some sort of commentary regarding the rapidly growing technological advancements and in such a short amount of time since the first two films, but of course it’s dropped entirely, in favor of just rehashing beats from the older flicks.
So alright, there’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s just start from the beginning: that opening scene… holy mother of Jesus. What an utterly abysmal, unintentionally hilarious way to open your major studio horror release. On its own, the scene serves little more purpose than to be a cold open that reintroduces the audience to the central premise of the franchise, and it ultimately has no impact on the rest of the film after. But with that in mind, why even have it to begin with? Especially when it’s so poorly executed and over-the-top in a manner that even the worst installments before this never really managed to be. Fortunately nothing that comes after is remotely as stupid and awful, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for what’s to follow.
Like any hopeful modern franchise revival (or reboot disguised as a belated sequel), Rings does a lot of repeating from past films of the series, particularly the 2002 The Ring. A lot of repeating, actually. In fact, you could say *too much* repeating from the other ones. In retrospect, it’s kind of incredible how almost every major story beat or attempted setpiece is just a repackaged version that came before in the series, except done much stupider and to less success. Not unlike last year’s Blair Witch, but whereas that film at least left you with an adrenaline-fulled, ‘no fucks given’ climactic setpiece, here, nothing to that effect really stands out or makes itself known apart from what was already done, and far better at that. In short, Scary Movie 3 did a great job of tearing this film to shreds, and it did so 14 years before this even came out.
After getting out of this, I was left with one burning question stuck in my brain: why was this film even made in the first place? Or rather, why did they wait so long to release it, especially now? I’ve mentioned plenty of times in reviews past that the horror genre in the US has enjoyed itself a healthy creative resurgence during the 2010s, thanks almost entirely to the independent filmmaking scene. So when a major studio tries to rush this product out to compete with more original and interesting works, its flaws are all the more obvious and glaring. But maybe the irony here is that they waiting so long to make another Ring film, that it wound up finally coming out in a time when it wasn’t even needed to satiate the horror-craving masses.
The standards for this sort of thing have been raised (if ever so slightly) in the past few years, and this just reeks of dated, early to mid 2000’s lack of effort, where you’re yelling at the characters onscreen as they continue to make the worst possible decisions you could possibly make in these scenarios, all for the sole purpose of advancing the story in the most contrived manner possible. We’re finally starting to move past all that, and Rings doesn’t need to show up and remind us all of the crap we had to settle for when the mainstream attempts at horror were at their lowest point.
OK, while I’ve been panning this a lot in my review, Rings really isn’t a terrible film or anything. It’s just a thoroughly generic, below average piece of teen horror schlock that feels like it’s been hidden inside of a vault since 2006 and was just released now, a mere two weeks after a legitimately good horror-thriller came out. If you want to see this concept done eons better, seek out the original 1998 Ringu, or even its 2002 American remake The Ring, both of which legitimately hold up as well-made, chilling genre pieces.
Or if you’re in the mood for a theatrical experience and crave some horror goodness, just go see Split again; it does everything right that this did wrong, namely having an intriguing central premise that’s executed well, contains likable/sympathetic characters, and has an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Rings unfortunately has none of those, but it does have more blasé, watered-down PG-13 horror tropes and jump scares galore, which can’t possibly be as tired and played out as it sounds… or can it?