It’s been 12 years since Samara last haunted cinemas, and it doesn’t seem much has changed. Those who watch Samara’s mysteriously creepy video are sentenced to death in seven days, electronics distort images of those who have been marked, everyone still waits until the very last minute to attempt to show a copy to someone, and communication is still nonexistent. That last example is the most frustrating. It’s a tactic a lot of writers (myself included) use in order to add suspense to a narrative, usually so that they can drive home an effective twist. After all, characters will only act on the information they’re provided, so when someone needs to go in a certain direction, omission (or the falsifying) of information leads them to where the writer needs to take them. However, director F. Javier Gutiérrez uses this tactic so blatantly in Rings, the third chapter in the remake of Japan’s Ringu, that the “twist” ending becomes nothing more than a manufactured attempt to prompt another sequel.
The film starts in typical horror fashion, introducing us to characters that are nothing but fodder to reintroduce the audience to Samara and her killer video. A passenger on a plane (Zach Roerig) is sweating bullets because he knows he only has a few minutes before his time is up. I’m not sure exactly why he chose to be on a plane at this particular time. Perhaps he thought Samara wouldn’t risk the lives of others to kill the one she’s after? Maybe it was because he didn’t think she’d find him 30,000 miles in the air? It’s never explained, and the ensuing crash is only ever mentioned one more time in the whole movie. And other than the man’s VCR with the tape embedded inside ending up at a swap meet, which would have happened regardless of where he died, the whole scenario is wholly inconsequential.
Cut to that very swap meet, where Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, looking like Leonard Hofstadter being haunted by Sheldon Cooper’s ghost after murdering him in his sleep), a professor of biology, purchases the VCR and watches the tape. We don’t find out what happens to him right away because the movie jumps once again to a beautiful young couple, Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), who appear to have walked right out of a sappy Hallmark card. At this point I was excited to see where the film was headed, as it seemed it might be following the tape from person to person to see how it effects their lives in short vignettes. This idea definitely would have given the franchise a fresh new direction, possibly even leading back to Noah, Naomi Watts’s young son in the first two films. But no, Gutiérrez chooses to fall back into familiar territory, sending Julia on a wild goose chase that may very well contradict some of the history set up by its predecessors. (I can’t confirm this, as it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen either of the Ring films.)
The first instance of communication errors occurs six weeks after Holt leaves for college. The two had agreed to call every day, so when Holt stops communication altogether, Julia understandably gets worried. After a horrible dream starring Holt and Samara and a weird call from a college acquaintance (Aimee Teegarden), Julia quickly heads off to find out what happened. It turns out, Gabriel is one of his professors and he’s been running an experiment with Samara’s tape to find out if souls are real and what happens to them when the body dies. Not the most ethical of experiments (someone will eventually have to die), but one that could have been much more controlled. Gabriel hires “tails” for his subjects to pass the Samara torch to, so it would seem that these tails would be in place before anyone watches the video, which isn’t the case, causing the subjects to run scared when time starts to run out.
Knowing this information, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for why Holt would have stopped calling Julia. I understand why he would stop Skypeing (what with the distortion of video it would have caused), but why disappear completely? Had he simply come up with a cover story and told her before beginning the experiment that he wasn’t going to be able to call her for a week, everything that happens could have been avoided. But yet, in an effort to “protect” his girlfriend, he inadvertently gets her tangled up in the whole mess.
Upon Julia’s arrival, she decides to become Holt’s “tail,” watching the now digital version of the video and saving her love from his ultimate fate. But when she goes to make her copy, it’s discovered the new video is larger than the previous one. It seems a new section has been somehow embedded into the footage. How is that possible? I don’t know, but Samara’s rules have been broken plenty before, so why not now. Just go with it. The new footage appears to be of events that transpired after Samara’s body was moved to a small town that all but died due to her presence there. Why this small town? Let’s go find out.
I can’t go into details, as the answer to the question may be a bit spoilery. All I can say is that it leads to more events and a twist ending that could have been avoided. When Julia first got her “seven days” call, the phone left a scar on her palm that two characters (Gabriel and a mysterious cemetery groundskeeper played by Vincent D’Onofrio) are able to decipher the meaning. But neither tell Julia or Holt. Why? Because the answer is too significant to the last five minutes, and if they were to tell them, different actions would occur to keep it from happening. So, like those who watch Samara’s video, they simply hope to end things themselves at the last minute. Maybe some day, someone will get smart; but that would mean getting creative and changing things up, and I don’t see that happening as Hollywood continues (or reboots) this young franchise.
My Grade: C
Next week, new movies include Fifty Shades Darker, John Wick: Chapter 2 and The LEGO Batman Movie. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.