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'Rings' Film Review: Analog horror reborn for the YouTube generation

February 3, 2017Ben MK

Fans of the Japanese Ringu series have been basking in a semi-resurgence of the franchise as of late, thanks to 2012's Sadako 3D, its 2013 sequel and the recently released Sadako vs. Kayako. However, if you're a fan of the 2002 North American remake, things have been eerily quiet since 2005's The Ring Two, a film that failed to live up to its predecessor, despite being helmed by Ringu director Hideo Nakata.

All of that changes, of course, with director F. Javier GutiĆ©rrez's Rings, the first sequel in over a decade to follow in the haunted footsteps of director Gore Verbinski's chilling remake. But with none of the first movie's cast reprising their roles — in particular, Naomi Watts, whose tortured character, reporter Rachel Keller, found herself at the center of an unshakeable supernatural curse in both The Ring and The Ring Two — does this followup have what it takes to breathe life into what has been a long-dead — and mostly written-off — horror franchise?

Set thirteen years after the events of the first movie, Rings revolves around Julia (Matlida Lutz), a young woman whose boyfriend's fascination with the occult has led him to join a campus club formed by Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a biology professor who's enlisted the help of a group of students to help him study the notorious videotape that carries the curse of Samara Morgan (Bonnie Morgan). Soon, however, Julia is caught up in Gabriel's ill-fated research, and she finds herself in a race against time to unravel Samara's mystery before her seven days are up.

Originally scheduled for a more timely release last Halloween, Rings begins with a prologue that sets the tone for things to come, in which Samara's deadly curse is unleashed upon a plane full of unwitting passengers aboard a flight bound for Seattle. It's a scene that feels almost like a mashup of The Ring and the Final Destination series, which is to say that while Rings does exist in the same continuity as its predecessor, it largely forgoes the feeling of slow-building dread that permeated Verbinski's 2002 vision, in favor of set-piece thrills and jump scares.

What follows is essentially The Ring reborn for the YouTube generation — and just as leaps and bounds in technology have caused the archaic VHS tape to be supplanted by DVD, then Blu-ray, and now digital streaming, so too has the choice method for spreading Samara's evil evolved as well. This natural progression of the franchise was also touched upon in Sadako vs. Kayako, but in the script here by David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman, it plays a more integral role in the narrative, resulting in a more visceral take on the series' mythology.

As for whether Rings lives up to its billing, well, that depends entirely on filmgoers' expectations. Because although the movie does manage to recapture some of the creepy atmosphere of the Japanese and English language originals, it by no means surpasses them. That being said, GutiĆ©rrez and his cast — which also includes Alex Roe, Aimee Teegarden and Vincent D'Onofrio — do wring a fair amount of fun out of the film's tried-and-true premise, and, ultimately, it's this fan service that Rings delivers that may just be enough to guarantee another sequel.

Rings releases February 3rd, 2017 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 42 Mins.

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