Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe star in Hollywood's latest version of Japan's terror, RINGS, directed by F. Javier Gutierrez.
Darkly stylish and occasionally moody, Rings mostly lies flat on the screen, daring anyone to pay attention.
Featuring not one but two different sequences before the main title appears, the filmmakers tip their hand early, in favor of the loud and obvious. It's an approach that treats the audience with kid gloves, literally: 'Let us explain this concept to you and then let us chop up these supposedly scary things into tiny little bits so it will go down easier.'
That approach, it turns out, is at odds with the resolutely gloomy atmosphere that director F. Javier Gutierrez soon establishes. His previous feature, Before the Fall (Tres dias), impressed this site's reviewer Kurt Halfyard back in 2008; he noted, in part: " It certainly does not hurt that the film is shot with the quality of visual sophistication."
That visual sophistication is apparent here, as well. Gutierrez and Sharone Meir (Whiplash, The Last House on the Left), who serves as director of photography, fashion a shadowy world that quickly envelops Julia (Matilda Lutz), the mysterious protagonist. Her story begins when she wakes up in bed on a bright, late summer morning with her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe). The handsome Holt then packs up his belongings neatly and heads off to college. They proclaim their love and promise to stay in touch.
Rather than provide Julia with any backstory, however, the focus remains on Holt, or his absence, rather, as following a cursory Skype call, he stops answering Julia's texts, emails and phone calls. Consumed with her love for him, Julia drives to his college -- mind, without telling anyone -- and is soon caught up in the aforementioned gloomy atmosphere.
She also sees firsthand the effects of the infamous video as its seven-day curse plays out in front of her to disastrous effect. But she loves Holt very much and refuses to leave him, and that's what is supposed to power the balance of the movie.
A professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, TV's The Big Bang Theory) represents mortal man's desire to understand and explain. He has constructed a giant pyramid scheme, it seems, based on his students being terribly naive and trusting, and he is, er, doing stuff to dissect the problem, mostly involving a lot of students treating a big old lab like a secret hangout joint, where they can eat burgers, play games, and watch giant analog stopwatches count down the "7 days" their fellow victims have to live before ...
... OK, that's too much analysis, obviously, and it's all part of a desperate attempt to reboot the series for the next generation of kids who never got to see The Ring in theaters back in the fall of 2002. It was much fun, trust me, especially if you'd already seen the Japanese original, which itself was a far different and superior beast, for reasons well-reasoned and explained by our contributor Allan Koay right here.
Evidently, Rings was made with the intent of appealing to a different audience in the same way that Sadako v Kayako aimed to breathe new life into two (?!) different franchises. Even in comparison to the latter, a weak-tea film that doesn't really start until the final sequence, Rings does not fare well because the story doesn't resonate or even come close to tapping into primal fears, as did Nakata Hideo's Ringu, which remains one of the most frightening, unsettling films I've ever seen.
Lutz does her best with a blank slate of a character. Vincent D'Onofrio shows up for some reason, but at least he has more screen time than Lizzie Brochere, who appears in the opening sequence for some reason. A favor for a friend? The prospect of a larger role that was cut?
Still, F. Javier Gutierrez remains a director to watch. As it stands, Rings is a swirling mess, but there's enough stylish potential to wonder what might have been if the script was stronger and/or the cast more convincing.
The film is now playing throughout Canada and the U.S.