Rings (2017)

*. There’s a point in Rings when our heroes, the studly Holt and sultry Julia, have to go out to do some field research into the supernatural phenomenon that is Samara. Before they leave, the rather dubious Professor Gabriel Brown gives them a shaggy book containing all he has learned so far on the subject. This struck me as archaic. Holt and Julia are millennials and I don’t suppose they read. When would they even have time, especially now that the clock is ticking on Julia’s date with the demon from the well? Couldn’t he have just given them a PowerPoint presentation covering the highlights?
*. As it is, I don’t think they ever consult the book. Instead Julia just keeps watching the video clip on her cellphone, hoping to pick up some more clues. And she’s guided by visions. All that work by Professor Brown for nothing.
*. I’m joking, a bit, about millennials not reading. Actually, I think millennials read as much as other age cohorts these days (which still isn’t much). But there’s a larger point here having to do with Rings. This is a scary teen movie, not a movie like the first two in the series, which were both about a mother trying to protect her family. I think perhaps the thinking was that since there’d been a twelve-year gap between the last film and this one they were pitching to a whole new generation. One less familiar with the Ring mythology.
*. Of course young people weren’t going to buy a movie about a haunted videotape in 2017. As the prologue makes clear, VCRs are now antiques. And I think Rings does a decent job updating the story to our current digital dispensation.
*. Unfortunately, I think the producers took this freedom and used it to turn what might have been a sequel or re-set of the franchise into a remake of the first film (or technically the remake of the first film, which was Ringu). There’s a pre-credit sequence on an airplane that’s actually very funny and that I thought signaled a change in direction but it isn’t followed up on. Instead it quickly settles down into The Ring 2.0. Everything is the same as the first movie right down to the basic structure of the story, which has Julia piecing together clues to try and find where Samara is buried so she can lay her weary spirit to rest (and maybe stop all the re-runs). The only reason I think they thought they could get away with this is because they would assume that the audience for the earlier movies had grown up and weren’t going to be seeing this one.
*. I’ve mentioned the character of Professor Brown (Johnny Galecki) a couple of times already and I want to spend some more time with him as I think he’s a lot more interesting than Holt and Julia.
*. In the first place, what’s his story? How did he get hooked on chasing after Samara? Was it with the tape he found in the VCR at the beginning? Or had he been pursuing her before that? And what’s his background? His title is Associate Professor of Biology but he seems more interested in the intersection of technology with urban myths.
*. Second: How did he manage to score such a massive grant to turn the 7th floor of that building into his own personal fiefdom when all his research seems to be into a bunch of magical mumbo-jumbo that he can’t even prove? I mean, did he say in his application for funding that he was looking to use the money to investigate a haunted videotape?
*. Third: Was there any formal inquiry into the highly questionable ethics of his research? I mean, basically he’s using students as guinea pigs and presumably more than a few of them are turning up dead and horribly disfigured in the same bizarre way. Where’s the administrative oversight?
*. Again I’m joking, a bit, but I really think Rings would have been a better movie if it had spent more time exploring this angle. The set-up was right for something along the lines of what I’ve called the Ghostbuster genre, where a team of people using computers and wearing labcoats use science to take on the supernatural. Think The Stone Tape (a movie with more than a little connection to the Ring mythology), The Entity, Poltergeist, Prince of Darkness, etc. That might have been interesting here, as Samara is a very tech-friendly ghost.
*. Alas, that’s not how things work out. Instead, as noted, we follow the script of the first film. Critics and audiences voiced displeasure, but I liked it a lot better than The Ring Two and it did make money so the franchise may still be alive. However, I think some serious damage has been done, at least in two respects.
*. (1) Samara’s back story, which really doesn’t fit very well with the previous films, diminishes her quite a bit. Her father is just a lecherous priest? They’re dime a dozen. Who cares? And the ending is far too abrupt. They had a chance to give us something real Hellraiser, with Samara as Pinhead back to exact some justice from the beyond, but they flubbed it. The basic idea wasn’t bad, but it had to be put forward with more gusto.
*. (2) Samara going viral is the logical next step in her evolution. She’s about to become a very busy girl! But there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Where do you go from there? I would say a prequel, but the lousy back story has already wrecked that.
*. The series could keep going but at this point it’s hard to understand why they’d bother — aside, I guess, from the obvious reason. Personally, I hope they give Samara a rest. Unless she promises to break the Internet and use everybody’s cellphone to stick wet fingers in their ears. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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