‘Rings’ is disappointingly uneven
Perhaps more than any other sub-par horror movie released recently, “Rings” aspires for a quality viewing experience. The filmmakers behind it are clearly passionate about their project, and while that enthusiasm doesn’t stop the film from being mostly forgettable, it makes it more digestible than one would assume. It’s creepy more often than not, and Director F. Javier Gutiérrez (“Before the Fall”) is skilled at the atmosphere-building that made “The Ring” such a huge hit fifteen years ago.
However, in many ways, this competency behind the camera makes the reliance on genre clichés all the more frustrating. The atmosphere is well-conveyed, but the same jump scares and pointless dream sequences that pervade modern horror still make their presence known. The fact that it takes the more difficult road three times out of ten doesn’t make the other seven times it takes the easy way out any less infuriating.
This frustration applies to the story, as well. As with the original film, “Rings” feels like a horror movie disguised as a mystery, and it’s a genuinely interesting mystery that only becomes more involving as the plot moves along — until the end, that is (but there’ll be time for that calamity later). Its potential is squandered as the storytelling behind “Rings” becomes progressively more muddled. It can’t seem to choose between being a reboot or a sequel, and it settles for something halfway, alternatively following and changing series canon to suit the scene.
In addition, the story relies on a series of contrivances and plot holes to work, especially at the beginning. Characters frequently make decisions that make no sense, but they move the plot forward, so audiences are expected to accept them with no questions asked. Almost every moment feels manufactured, instead of letting the natural fear that drove the original do the talking.
With the exception of Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) playing against type, the cast doesn’t do particularly well with what they’re given, either. The central couple, as portrayed by Matilda Lutz (“Summertime”) and Alex Roe (“The 5th Wave”), is one of the most self-righteously pretentious couples in recent horror memory. Any relationship between two ostensible teenagers — both portrayed by twenty-six-year olds — that begins with them reciting the Greek tragedy of Orpheus as a thinly veiled metaphor for the plot is doomed to be unbearable, and Julia and Holt make this rule. They are so obnoxiously self-important both in the performances and in their relationship that they are insufferable. They strive to be likeable to such an extreme, off-putting extent that they’re anything but. The dialogue is wooden, sure, but it can’t shoulder all the blame.
All of this doesn’t add up to a bad movie, though. If “Rings” had ended five minutes before it does, it would have been anticlimactic, and it would have left some plot threads unresolved, but it would have been an average, even moderately likeable flick with positives to balance out its negatives. Then comes the “twist,” a lazy possession plotline that makes no sense — both for what the audience has been shown so far and for the new “rules” it sets up — and which damages the movie the longer it lasts. It is the kind of lazy, tacked-on non-sequitur that buries the merits of the film and elevates the flaws, ultimately resulting in a film more memorable for its failures than for its commendable ambitions.