There’s a time capsule quality that aids The Ring, a horror film about a creepy video that will kill you seven days after you watch it. The original Japanese film was released in 1998, during the relative infancy of the Internet. The American remake was released in 2002, when the Internet was more relevant but our mobile technology was in its infancy. Both the Japanese and the American film were aided by the technology of the time. Simply put, VHS and analog video was still the medium in which the most out-there shit you could find existed on.
The Internet is a scary place and we’re currently in the midst of a worldwide troll coup of power, but it’s only scary to the mind. There’s nothing physically eerie about clicking a link or dragging a file image to a video player. What The Ring was able to do was tap into the fear of stumbling upon something that presented itself as dirty and fringe, a VHS tape that’s labeled with a black marker “Watch Me”—which makes one instantly think of a sex tape, a snuff film or a surveillance of a crime—and punish the viewer who had to physically place it into a player. That simple act of pushing in a tape conveys more of a physical choice than double clicking on a file. It’s simple, but that action is also more cinematic.
Because its new sequel, Rings, is mostly dealing with new technology that doesn’t have that physical creepiness built in (a digital file is nowhere near as foreboding, especially when to rid the curse all you have to do is click “copy” and email it to someone else) the absolute absurdity of the premise shines even brighter than the previous films. If for some reason you’ve not seen the previous film(s) but want to see this one, the videotape/digital file in question includes a bunch of creepy 90s alternative music video images of a woman brushing her hair, someone falling off a cliff, a nail prick, a dead horse on a beach, a water well and a disquieting illuminated ring. What those images represents is the story of a young girl named Samara who was tossed into a well and left to die (“the ring” in question is a slab that closed off the top of the well). Samara’s story conveys sympathy in her personal tragedy, but—though everyone who views the tape and receives the phone call that they will die in seven days—assisting her to a peaceful rest only furthers her plague. And that plague is her digital self, crawling through a technological device to drown a victim through her own watery touch.
How does Samara make this video and phone calls? Well, that’s unexplainable and something you just have to go along with. The 1998 film and its 2002 remake were able to create enough creepy images and sounds to forgive the unexplainable, but Rings has characters doing the unforgivable and saying the unlistenable, so nothing skates by. This is just a turd floating in the water. You don’t need to know extra about it, you just need to get away from it.
Rings opens with a plane crash caused by Samara. The man who caused that plane crash viewed Samara’s video seven days prior and she crawled out of the cockpit to claim him. Of course, his family sold all of his belongings so the videotape is back in circulation at a vintage shop. Because only students and professors go analog, it gets re-circulated by a professor and his students.
The original film(s) focused on a journalist looking for the truth behind the video. Rings creates a laughable society of students who all allow their teacher (Johnny Galecki) to potentially kill them while he tries to see how Samara can teach him about a soul. Somehow the professor has an entire floor of a university building devoted to his “research” and every one of his students is keen on tempting fate by watching the video.
The main characters of Rings that we follow are one of his students, Holt (Alex Roe) and Holt’s girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Lutz). Instead of getting too much into the plot, just in case you want to maintain a mystery of what Samara wants this time, allow me to highlight how Julia ends up in rural Washington as to how dumb this movie is. We’re told that Julia is not in school because her mom “needs her.” Yet, she’s able to leave for days and days without ever receiving a worried phone call or being worried about what will happen to her mom. Julia drives to Spokane because Holt has stopped answering her phone calls and she received a weird message from a frantic student who’s looking for Holt. She goes to his dorm room and finds his phone under his bed with a bunch of missed calls and texts. Holt of course watched the video but this doesn’t explain why he’s going everywhere without his phone or dropping off contact with everyone. It’s just convenient for the plot. Every use of the cell phone is convenient for the moment you’re seeing it, but every time you don’t see it, it’s illogical.
Cell phones have forever changed horror films, but I’ve never seen it so cripple an experience as it does in Rings. In a film where the whole premise is so inexplicable, it’s completely ridiculous to have characters not behave naturally with technology. Phones are never used to call for help, yet they’re always there to be used as a flashlight. No one communicates when, where or why they are going to investigate something or when they’ve found something horrific that the other person might need to know. No one checks their voicemail or missed calls until days later—even if it came from someone who just died! (Let’s see what those dying thoughts were a few days from now, I’ve got some creepy priest things to check out at the moment, thanks! Also, I can’t call my significant other. Nope. Never. It helps the plot if I never contact this person that I’m so in love with that I compare our bond to Orpheus.)
As a franchise, The Ring is built on technology. As a film, Rings is pretty ridiculous but it’s impossible to have any fun with because it avoids technology so blatantly. There are going to be holes in the plot of any Ring movie because the premise is so unbelievable, but those holes are elongated into a whole new cavernous landscape by the unfathomable decisions of its characters.
Seeking cognitive coherency is not the only hurdle that Rings can’t jump, though. Plainly, it’s not scary. It somehow wastes Vincent D’Onfrio’s presence. And, outside of its technological shortcomings, it’s downright lazy (the big reveal is the big reveal of most every horror film of the moment right now—an underground room devoted to one nefarious thing). The only commendable thing about Rings? There’s a new creepy video that Samara communicates. But unlike the technology that the franchise hasn’t been able to adapt to, that video is still stuck in 90s aesthetics.