Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of Hideo Nakata’s masterful horror Ringu, or known as The Ring, kicked the creepy ghost girl formula into high gear. If The Grudge hadn’t capitalized on that quite yet, nobody anticipated the trend that would emerge in the horror community as a result of The Ring’s success through its primary antagonist, Samara. But despite that, The Ring still proved to be an effectively solid mystery movie with several layers. So it’s without pressure that its long-awaited sequel (discrediting the horrible The Ring Two), Rings, had to bring things full circle – no pun intended. Instead what we got was a slapdash, pale imitation of its predecessor.
Rings picks up several years after the events of the first film, negating the sequel entirely. A college professor discovers the mysterious killer VHS tape and decides to run social experiments regarding the effects and limitations of its seven day syndrome. A college student gets caught in the middle of this experiment and his girlfriend comes to his aid. While on paper, this is a great concept that would certainly open doors for challenging its own formula and being the unconventional horror sequel we’d hoped for, but Rings decides to play it dull and safe instead, sinking back into the first films’ mystery/detective elements while never being nearly as interesting or engrossing. Plus the lack of Naomi Watts is obvious.
Rings isn’t a completely terrible film as it does attempt to paint a grim picture and tone. The cinematography, for the most part, is extremely well done and effectively scary in moments, using some clever camera tricks to elicit well-timed jump scares that don’t feel cheap. As far as performances go, nobody in the film was bad, with the standout being Johnny Galecki as the snarky professor. It’s two central protagonists, generic college boy and generic college girl, were unfortunately never given the same emotional depth that the first films characters had, so they came off as rather bland but serviceable objects for the horror.
However, this is where the praise stops as Rings subjects itself to the same tired, by-the-numbers mystery that, without Verbinski’s refreshingly stylistic touch from the first film, feels dragged out at a snails pace. This is where pacing issues become glaringly obvious as the film never really decides what to be. The first half hour of the film seems to have a firm grasp on being a pretty atmospheric, tense and vaguely interesting conspiracy story with potential to take off into wild directions. But after the initial Samara reveal, things spiral downwards and the film bounces everywhere in an attempt to keep the audiences attention.
The mystery and horror elements never gel together well, and seeing as how this is primarily a horror film, it’s unfortunate when the horror elements in particular always feel out of place instead of a natural progression of tension like the original. They happen too abruptly, sometimes with an over-reliance on the anticipated jump scare. Thankfully, it never happens too much in the film and the mystery more or less remains front and center, but if the mystery itself is an uninteresting, contrived mess, then there’s no real positive in that. I commend the filmmakers for trying to remain true to the originals sense of suspense and intrigue over being a complete jump scare fest, but this clashes with the films bizarre choice to be PG-13, hence pandering to its target audiences that already wouldn’t be entirely invested in the mystery/thriller elements, or rather being dumbed down instead of living up to its full terrifying potential.
Rings is a misfire of a potentially amazing premise only fully realized by the end and never elaborated on further for the sake of setting up would could be a tired string of PG-13 sequels – because studios like money. There’s definitely an attempt to make it a creepy, atmospheric and engaging mystery like the original, but due to the incompetency of the storytelling, never hits its stride. The film is too convoluted to be a suspenseful mystery/thriller and too unevenly paced to be a horror, so it waddles aimlessly somewhere in the middle and bumps its head in the dark way too often.