Paramount has revived “The Ring” cycle with “Rings,” a middling update that has few of the chills and little of the suspense of the J-horror original, or its Hollywood version.
The ever-cloudy Pacific Northwest is still home to “the videotape that kills you if you watch it.” That’s a story related by one young passenger to another on an airline flight.
He looks at his watch, figures he’s safe unless something happens “in the next five minutes.” And, well, you know.
Two years later, Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) says her sweet good-byes to her college-bound beau, Holt (Alex Roe). She wonders what’s up when, within weeks, his Skype sexting sessions stop and he won’t answer his phone. She dashes to Spokane to investigate.
The foreshadowing here is that their love is to be as strong as Orpheus and Eurydice, from Greek myth. He was the lover who pursued his dead love to the underworld in order to save her. Julia has let Holt and us know that the days of women being damsels rescued by dudes are gone.
And Holt, it turns out, is in need of her commitment and sacrifice. He’s watched the tape, a hodgepodge of black and white images of a suicide, a well, flies and assorted other images — “clues” as to who haunts the tape, and who is coming to get you.
Holt has seen it. As it turns out, a careless/callous college professor (Johnny Galecki of “Big Bang Theory”) has loosed his students onto the tape, and loosed it onto them. It’s some sort of biology/afterlife experiment. No, it’s not likely to get him tenure.
Julia experiences the horror first-hand, is warned away from watching the tape by Holt, but plunges into the nightmare he and others are living and the mystery their somewhat-clever professor hasn’t quite solved.
“Rings” then loses itself in that mystery, which if you remember the original films, was about a hirsute, murdered child rising out of the well to avenge herself on the world. The mystery is expanded and explained further here, which unravels the story’s inherent mystique.
It’s the random ruthlessness of Samara, the child ghost, that was so hair-raising in the earlier films. Knowing about her mother, changing the timeline of how long ago this crime happened, doesn’t improve the tale or the telling of it.
The deaths cooked up by three credited screenwriters aren’t creative and are only mildly creepy. Director F. Javier Gutierrez manages the lighting, but never the dread tone of the film that made Naomi Watts famous.
None of the cast brings anything like genuine terror or urgency to the proceedings. Only Vincent D’Onofrio, making a third act appearance, acquits himself with honor.
And the finale kind of spoiled the generous mood I was in up to that point — “Well, I’ve seen worse.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material
Credits:Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez , script by David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:47