'Rings': Film Review

An unscary time-killer hoping to pave the way for more creative sequels to come.

Producers skip the DVD revolution entirely in dragging their VHS-centric horror series (sort of) into the present.

Fans of the Ring franchise may have heard that Rings, arriving a dozen years after the series' most recent installment, is justifying this comeback as a format change: The first two movies concerned a haunted VHS tape; Rings, we're told, will exploit the way we share videos in 2017. "I wanted to explore how technology fundamentally changes how the curse works, and how it spreads,” director F. Javier Gutierrez says.

Well, someone should have told the screenwriters — who, instead of making Rings feel cutting-edge, have delivered a 100-minute holding pattern, tidying up the narrative house in anticipation of a reboot that will actually explore this whole inter-net thing. That's assuming, of course, that there's still an audience left after this dull installment, which is unlikely to fire up the faithful and almost sure not to attract new fans to this J-horror-derived property.

Where the first two films surrounded gifted thesp Naomi Watts (fresh from David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.) with top-shelf talent like Brian Cox and Sissy Spacek, this low-rent outing stars newcomers Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe as Julia and Holt, high school sweethearts being separated by Holt's departure for college. Confident that they'll remain a couple, they set up a nightly Skype date.

But then buddies pull Holt out of one of those dates just as the webcam action is about to get R-rated. Frustrated Julia starts to get offended when he doesn't return her texts the next morning, and is downright worried when, days later, a strange woman (Aimee Teegarden's Skye) calls her from his account, talking nonsense.

She drives up to his campus to investigate, where she finds that Holt's favorite professor, Gabriel Brown (Johnny Galecki), has a whole secret floor on campus devoted to studying some kind of weird video. Long story short: Anybody who watches it will die seven days later, unless they find a "tail" to watch it after them, thus renewing the cycle for another seven days. Brown believes this investigation may help him prove the existence of the immortal soul — which is what all molecular biologists are secretly after, right?

Buying into this video-curse-death cycle a little more readily than you or I might, Julia watches the video almost immediately after learning that Holt — whose first words to her are "Don't watch it!" — has done so and is slated to die soon. But there's something different in what she sees: digitally embedded cues that send the couple off on a hunt for Samara Morgan, the preteen whose untimely death set this curse in motion years ago.

Their fairy rote detective campaign takes them, most interestingly, to a cemetery whose caretaker is a blind Vincent D'Onofrio. Surely he has nothing to do with whatever buried secrets started this cycle of death. Surely.

With Hideo Nakata's 1998 Ringu as a starting point, any sequel would have to work hard to be completely lacking in creepy imagery. Rings finds a couple of nice, if inconsequential, little chills: a fly that creeps through the joint Professor Brown smokes; the menacing graffiti left inside a crypt; the cicadas who appear as the story nears its end. But these are tiny pleasures in a movie that doesn't get to the point until its final 90 seconds or so. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that the end is rarely the end, even when it should be.

Production company: Parkes + MacDonald Imagenation
Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D'Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Screenwriters: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Producers: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Executive producers: Amy Sayres, Ehren Kruger, Mike Macari, Neal Edelstein, Christopher Bender, J.C. Spink, Roy Lee
Director of photography: Sharone Meir
Production designer: Kevin Kavanaugh
Costume designer: Christopher Peterson
Editors: Steven Mirkovich, Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Composer: Matthew Margeson
Casting director: Debra Zane

PG-13, 101 minutes