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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Rings  (2017)
1½ Stars
Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez.
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D'Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Zach Roerig, Laura Wiggins, Lizzie Brocheré, Ricky Muse, Chuck Willis, Patrick Carter, Randall Taylor, Jill Jane Clements, Kayli Carter.
2017 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, February 2, 2017.
2002's "The Ring," directed by Gore Verbinski, was a uniquely atmospheric and altogether special ghost story, a rare American remake (it was based on the 1998 Japanese film "Ringu") which arguably improved upon the original. Fifteen years on, it still holds up magnificently. It probably didn't need a sequel, as evidenced by 2005's distaff "The Ring Two," and it certainly didn't need the preposterous, dopey, late-to-the-table third entry "Rings." More knockoff than organic continuation, the picture tries to expand the lore surrounding vengeance-seeking child specter Samara and her cursed videotape, but stumbles out of the gate with sloppy writing, choppy editing, copious plot holes, and overbearing yet singularly unhelpful exposition. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez and scribes Jacob Aaron Estes & David Loucka and Akiva Goldsman prove ill-equipped to fully realize this material. Or, might there have been a few extra aggravating cooks in the kitchen?

The airplane-set opener is approached with such breakneck absurdity one expects it to be a sort of movie-within-a-movie ruse a 'la 2000's "Urban Legends: Final Cut." Alas, it's all intended to be really real, and two years after the doomed flight, the VCR (and a deadly videocassette) owned by one of its victims is bought at a flea market by university professor Gabriel Brown (Johnny Galecki). The gist—if one isn't already familiar—is that anyone who dares to watch said video is destined to perish exactly seven days later unless they copy and share it with someone else. This loophole saves Gabriel's life, but subsequent viewers, like graduate student Skye (Aimee Teegarden), seem to have an awful time finding a single person to show it to despite living on a bustling college campus. When the teenaged Julia (Matilda Lutz) sacrifices herself to save marked boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe), a mysterious blip occurs during the copying process which creates a completely different horrific collection of images. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery before Julia's hourglass runs out, she and Holt head to Sacrament Valley, an ailing small town where Samara's body has been laid to rest.

In "Rings," the hows, whats and whys of its convoluted narrative become so arbitrary they border on the incomprehensible. The genesis of this brand-new video, and why Julia has been chosen to be its inaugural target, are left frustratingly unexplored. They are no match, however, for even bigger unanswered queries which cannot be discussed without giving key plot points away. Suffice it to say, leaving these aspects of the story open-ended is not a creative choice, but the result of a frequently haphazard, murky, curiously unfinished final cut that shan't be bothered with making sense.

Performances are uninspired at best. Johnny Galecki (2011's "In Time"), as Gabriel, and Aimee Teegarden (2011's "Scream 4"), who gets one of the precious few affectingly tense scenes in the movie as Skye, are dealt strictly two-dimensional parts. Vincent D'Onofrio (2015's "Jurassic World") pops up in the pivotal role of blind townsperson Galen Burke, but isn't given the chance to make much of an impression. That leaves Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe (2016's "The 5th Wave") as romantic protagonists Julia and Holt. As characters, they are bereft of nuance, and as a couple they share no discernible chemistry. The go-to instinct is to ask where Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson are when a person truly needs them, but in no way, shape or form is this project worthy of their time or talent.

"Rings" has a handful of cool images, as in an early reverse shot where cascading rain on windowpanes lifts upward into the stormy nighttime sky. The new infernal video, judged on its own oddball merits, offers a few evocative sights, including an unearthly one of a snake swallowing itself. To locate the positives one must grasp at proverbial straws. Never once eliciting so much as a goosebump and making the grave mistake of foregoing the urgency of a clearcut seven-day countdown, "Rings" misses the ferry and—just like one of its unfortunate characters—plunges directly into a ravine. It's not necessarily offensive, but it is a grave waste of time. Fans of "The Ring" would be best to stick with that ravishingly mounted modern classic and leave this lame offshoot securely buried.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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