Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rings: Another Middle-of-the-Road Horror Flick


Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio

Fun fact: the first DVD I ever bought was The Ring from 2002. It was a total blind-fire in my movie-watching infancy: I thought it looked really scary, I heard it was really scary, and I bought the really scary movie. Nostalgia is likely what brought me to the movie theater yesterday and asked for enough butter on my popcorn to drown a toddler. I didn’t go into this movie with a lot of high hopes, but I ate most of my popcorn by the end of it. It wasn’t a stellar movie, and it wasn’t a bad movie—it was just okay. There wasn’t much that was really striking about it, but it had its upsides and downsides.

Rings is a third installment of The Ring movies—and here I was thinking that it was only the second installment. I completely missed The Ring 2. This newest movie branches off from the original story of The Ring: if a person watches a certain internet video, one full of cryptic images and grotesque frames, that person will receive a phone call immediately after the video; a mysterious voice says, “Seven days,” implying that that is when the viewer will be killed by Samara—who is something like a technological ghost. Samara was an abused orphan who died in the bottom of a well after her adoptive mother tried to suffocate her and dispose of her body, and she now exacts revenge for her earthly suffering on viewers of the video. Rings picks up the story as Holt (Roe) leaves his girlfriend, Julia (Lutz), to go to college. Once there, Holt joins an experiment about the afterlife with Gabriel (Galecki), the lead professor and researcher. When Holt stops returning Julia’s calls, she decides to visit his college and find him—but the two of them fall into deep water as they uncover more about Samara’s past. (Get it? Like they’re falling into a well! I’m so sorry, keep reading.)

There were a couple of instances where Ring’s cinematography struck a chord with me. Julia and Holt think that by finding Samara’s body and cremating it, that might do the trick to setting Samara free and ending the cursed video. When Holt and Julia find the crypt where the body is held, Julia crawls into it to investigate. It’s a horror movie, right? Crawl into the crypt, why not. As she crawls inside, though, the cinematographer carefully places the camera in such a way that all of the walls of the crypt are visible around Julia—thereby creating a feeling of being surrounded or trapped, almost as if she was being buried alive. In another part of the film, Julia stumbles across a makeshift prison cell, and again, that “trapped” cinematography comes back. In one frame, Julia stands in the doorway of the cell, and we see the left wall, right wall, ceiling, and floor—the frame, itself, closes in around her. I thought it was a neat effect.

At the same time, some of the visuals in Rings were cliché or blatantly contrived. It’s a horror movie, so to fit with the horror movie genre, the filmmakers had to throw in some creepy-crawly stuff: there were ants, centipedes, a random snake, and a swarm of cicadas, just to make sure that we got those people with bug phobias (read: me) to writhe in their seats a bit. To highlight that something paranormal is happening, we also have a very quick scene with Galecki standing in front of a wall of windows where the rain is falling upward. The images throughout the movie feel very contrived, and that’s my bigger peeve about Rings. To go along with the ideas of The Ring, the original movie, the main characters had to watch Samara’s doom-video, and then the rest of the movie piece-meals the video together in a fairly natural way—if an image appeared in the video, Naomi Watts’ character would find that image in real life, and the original movie would have a quick jump cut back to the video to show the connection. While this felt very natural in The Ring, the images in this Samara doom-video seem quite deliberate, as though the filmmakers sat down and said, “Hmm, what’s kind of ominous and spooky and ring-shaped? Oh, I got it! A church bell when you look at it from below!” Some of these images seem like a stretch to fit the “ring” motif, and it pulled me out of the movie.

As far as acting goes, I wasn’t horribly impressed—with one exception. I had never heard of Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz or Alex Roe before, so placing them into leading roles for what felt like a large box office film seems a bit odd. The two of them had a goopy love story, just a couple of young adults in a relationship; while the goop of their love was quite strong, the rest of their acting was just okay—nothing really breathtaking. Johnny Galecki certainly stepped away from his recurring role as the nerdy, timid Leonard on The Big Bang Theory, trading particle physics for afterlife studies, and I actually enjoyed his acting for the most part. Some of it seemed like a stretch, such as the first encounter between him and Julia: she very politely asks him if Holt had been to class lately, and being the stereotypical asshole research professor, he tells her a bit too bluntly to forget about Holt and move on. Overall, the acting was okay, but it was nothing groundbreaking to me.

The one exception in the acting department comes from Vincent D’Onofrio, and he steals the show toward the end of Rings. The last time I saw D’Onofrio was in Netflix’s adaptation of Daredevil as Kingpin, the massive mob boss who shakes things up in Hell’s Kitchen. I liked him in that role and found him very believable—just as believable as I find him in this role. In Rings, he plays a kind-hearted, soft-spoken blind man who lives in the town where Samara’s body was laid to rest. As Julia and Holt search for answers about Samara’s life—if it can be called such—he invites them into his home and answers the questions he can answer. There wasn’t a moment that felt contrived from his performance, so it was nice to see some stellar acting in this movie.

Overall, again, I wasn’t horribly impressed with Rings, but it could have been a lot better. As bits and pieces of Samara’s life were being uncovered by Julia and Holt, I always felt like I was one step ahead of them, so the story felt fairly predictable. I saw where things were going before they showed up on the screen, but it’s a (1) a horror movie and (2) a sequel. Things aren’t ever thought out or as planned out as the original, and that definitely shows here. The writing isn’t horrible, and the dialogue is okay, but again, this movie is a popcorn-muncher and not much more.