Hyped for a 2016 release and then significantly bumped. Not screened for critics. Multiple writers. Reviving a trope we thought had played out a long time ago and promoted with a trailer promising nothing but more of the same old, same old. All the reasons to anticipate a dud and then some. And bad word of mouth on opening day, to boot!
Surprise--I really liked RINGS.
Here we get a genuine SEQUEL to the American version of THE RING (where the nasty "seven days" spirit is named Samara as opposed to Sadako), not a mere rehash (as were both the Japanese AND American films known as RING 2)--one that actually takes the original concept further while maintaining a similar level of tension.
Never mind the prologue set on a doomed airplane--it's just there to establish the premise for newcomers without resorting to actual flashbacks. The real story begins when a biology professor (Johnny Galecki) with a life-after-death obsession AND a connoisseur's appetite for outmoded technology gets a hold of the cursed VHS tape... and receives the phone call. But rather than have the movie focus on the professor for seven days while he freaks out over his constant haunting and his approaching doom, the fascinated scientist runs with it. Imagine a secret "extra credit" college project in which individually monitored and tracked students continue to copy and pass along the curse of Samara while the professor attempts to break the pattern and prove his obsession with computer technology.
This, of course, runs major interference on the romance between new student Holt (Alex Roe) and his long-distance girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) once Holt gets caught up in the project and refuses to endanger Julia by telling her anything about it. Naturally, Julia WILL get involved--but once she does, the team discovers that HER copy of the video can no longer be duplicated--and that it now contains extra imagery reserved for her alone. We may already know what happened to Samara originally, but there's a lot more to her backstory, and it's going to take a trip to an all-but-abandoned, flood-ravaged coastal town (and a visit to a blind Vincent D'Onofrio) to untangle the threads.
And no horses this time. Thank goodness.
By the time RINGS had played out on screen, I completely understood the reason for its delayed release. The last twenty minutes or so bear an extreme (but entirely coincidental) similarity to a certain highly successful horror release in 2016--and it would take a major spoiler to explain that, even though the two stories have nothing else in common whatsoever. There was no real choice but to put distance between the films, but some people are going to cry 'ripoff' all the same. And that's too bad, because RINGS does quite well on its own under the direction of F. Javier Gutierrez, with slow-build suspense, jolts that actually work, and everything that the original audience WANTS to see again. Yes, there's some frustrating 'idiot plot' business along the way ("I can read the message, but I won't tell it to you over the phone... I'll be right over!"), but the story by and large accounts for itself properly and the overall project easily ranks as the best RING film since the original, for my money. Okay, it was matinee price, but still.
Oh, on a side note, I also saw the latest Japanese franchise entry, SADAKO VS. KAYAKO (yep, RING meets GRUDGE). I'm not going to provide you with a full review of that because I watched it right after a party and didn't pay it the strictest attention in the world, but I more than got the gist of it. As with KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS before it, it's the same notion: hey, why don't we make the two ghosts fight each other and then they'll destroy each other! Good luck with that. The rules were changed (now it's "two days" instead of seven, for one thing), the characters blunder into situations with no real plan of action, and the theatrical project has the production values of a cheap TV movie. But the actual ghosts were still scary when they appeared on screen. Meow.
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