A bad film rarely sets out to be a bad film. Sometimes it is a matter of opinion, sometimes production becomes messy, sometimes what the director was trying to convey gets lost in translation. In order to be a fan of film, you have to believe no one sets out to make a bad film. It is doubtful F. Javier Gutiérrez set out with the intention of making a bad film, and at times Rings is fine, since it does have the iconic imagery and attempts to update the VHS-based story for the Snapchat generation. Except, one thing worse than a bad film is a pointless film, and Rings is pointless in every way.
The American remake of The Ring followed an adult mother as she embraced her role as a journalist to find out the truth behind the urban legend. While it had its problems, it had enough redeeming features to make it watchable, with a great look, cool villain, and neat concept. Rings is an unfortunately modern adaption, meaning an adult woman is no longer the protagonist, replaced by young and attractive students who are terrorised by Samara’s video, now distributed online thanks to a vintage nerd converting the video to digital.
Its two predecessors set the rules, so the shocks that came before are standard procedure here – everyone knows how to survive the curse from the get go. Protagonist Julia is concerned about her boyfriend, who has been roped in to watching the video by a psychologist (the vintage nerd) for an experiment and has become shaken by the experience. Julia watches too, now also cursed, as they try to figure out how to survive past the seven day limit.
The investigative aspect is all a case of been there, done that. Samara’s back story has been uncovered already, this time told from a different angle with different players, and not always in a way that sits comfortably alongside the original. Where Naomi Watts’s Rachel was a relatable and sympathetic character, Julia and Holt are stock young, white horror tropes, a surrogate for the supposed scares the audience is supposed to suffer. Suffer the audience does, but not deliberately.
There are no scares, nothing new, and nothing worth going to see. When Rings tires of rehashing The Ring, it moves on to ripping off Don’t Breathe where a blind character stalks Julia around his house. The problem with trying to create something of its time is that by its release date it often already feels dated. Unfriended worked because it picked one thing and stuck to it, but Rings’s interpretation of the modern feels like an uncanny valley version of how we live our lives in 2017. It all feels a little off, like an impersonation of reality.
Replacing an adult woman with kids feels offensively unforgivable. A horror film is a horror film, which people opt-in to for scares and a thrill. It Follows features a teenage gang for a reason, while The Babadook requires an adult’s mentality as protagonist. Rings is seeking to appeal to the PG13 crowd, which apparently means a patronising approach to characterisation. Julia and Holt are not characters – they are Urban Outfitters models, as shallow and pointless as the film itself.
There is one scene involving a grizzly death of an actor known for starring in the Big Bang Theory. For some, that might be worth the price of the admission. For most, have more fun by just watching Samara’s video.