Right off the bat, I want to mention that The Ring is my favorite horror/scary movie. It excels on many different levels, not the least of which is the horror component, and – although The Conjuring and its sequel both came close – no movie has matched it in terms of being both excellent horror and an example of excellent filmmaking and storytelling. The Ring Two failed to live up to the creative and financial heights of its predecessor (despite being directed by Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu, the original Japanese film upon which The Ring was based) and the franchise lay dormant for nearly twelve years. Now, under the guidance of fledgling director F. Javier Gutiérrez, the series returns with a third installment, hoping to reignite interest in the once-mighty franchise.
I went in with no expectations – good or bad. A new director and a new cast means that anything is possible, so I sat down with high hopes, but nothing more. The Ring Two wasn’t an awful film, objectively speaking, but it offered nothing new to the property. The scares were recycled or uninspired and the mythology remained virtually untouched. If nothing else, the role of a sequel (or prequel) is to expand the boundaries of the world that was previously established and add more layers to the overarching narrative and the characters. This was also the problem I had with last year’s Blair Witch.
I’m happy to say that Rings doesn’t suffer from the same affliction. Some may be aware that there was a short film entitled “Rings” that was released shortly before The Ring Two hit theaters (starring both Emily Van Camp of Captain America fame and Alexandra Breckinridge, now best known for “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead”). It centered around an underground community who has gotten their hands on Samara’s tape and knowingly pass it from one person to the next.
The 2017 film Rings is similar in its basic premise (hence the double-meaning in the title), but it takes the original premise and brings it into the present. Nowadays, the supernatural is everywhere and is no longer a taboo subject for one to discuss or even to study. With shows such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” bringing ghosts into the mainstream, the paranormal is almost viewed as a scientific curiosity and that’s where our tale begins.
It’s a clever way to update the story without jettisoning all that has come before. I wondered to myself how the film would handle the fact that Samara’s original video was on a VHS cassette (look it up, kids). Even as relatively recently as 2002 (when The Ring was released), VHS was modern technology, but things have moved quickly in the years since. Gutiérrez again handles this with respect while also quietly updating the concept into 2017.
I was honestly impressed with the entire story. Much like the original film, it’s engaging and mysterious and feels like it belongs in this world. I won’t elaborate, out of my desire to not reveal spoilers, but the fact that the original film largely revolved around solving the mystery of Samara’s video, it could not have been an easy task to find a way to bring mystery back into the narrative in a way that feels natural and believable. But Gutiérrez and crew pull it off. This was something The Ring Two was sorely lacking. Gutiérrez – as inexperienced as he is – understands that audiences want a sequel to somehow feel the same as the movie they liked before, but also be different. It’s an enigma – a tough nut to crack. Gutiérrez does it and I applaud him.
The scares are a little less fresh, but they’re what we expect from Samara and they’re also superior to the first sequel. That ties into the film’s one detriment that’s worth mentioning, which is its similarity in structure to The Ring. Even the character types match up pretty well. This isn’t to say that it’s poorly done. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The characters are interesting and empathetic and, as I’ve already mentioned, the story is compelling and fast-paced. The formula just might feel a little familiar if the original film is fresh in your mind.
It’s hard to truly find fault with the filmmakers for that, though. Like I said, audiences place unfair and, quite frankly, unreasonable demands upon sequels when they desire all of the elements that they love from the first film while also requesting something new. In essence, that’s what Gutiérrez has pulled off, here. We have a similar tone, structure, and character archetypes, but new mysteries, horror set pieces, and mythology cornerstones. (Oh! And Vincent D’Onofrio! Can’t go wrong with Vincent D’Onofrio!) My biggest fear was that the film would neuter (spay? Does “spay” work in this metaphorical context?)Samara. I can’t be any more specific outside of saying that, luckily, that didn’t occur, and she’s the still the horror icon that I love to fear.
Rings doesn’t approach the quality of its original progenitor (which I don’t hesitate to call a horror masterpiece), nor the Conjuring films, but it’s superior to Nakada’s sequel by leaps and bounds and is a worthy addition to the legacy of The Ring. The lack of Naomi Watts in the starring role and Gore Verbinski in the director’s chair may justifiably make diehard franchise fans a little nervous. But those franchise fans don’t come any more enthusiastic than I do and, after being disappointed with the first sequel in 2005, I feel like we finally have another worthy chapter in the story of Samara Morgan.
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