Review - "Rings"

I've reviewed every Ring movie since Sadako 3D - it would be insane to stop now.

Time to update this blog so I can tell you a thing about Rings.

The Ring franchise is... confusing, to say the least. There are about four or five different canons, and each new entry seems content to tear previous continuities to shreds. Hell, the first Hideo Nakata-helmed Ring has two canonical follow-ups, Ring 2 and Rasen, both of which are true sequels but are also completely incongruous with each other. When you start adding in prequels, sequels, reboots, and whatever la la land Sadako vs Kayako and Ring: Terror's Realm exist in, not to mention the original novel series, you just have to learn to not pay too much attention. Unless you're me. Then you can just bitch about continuity all day, into an echo chamber occupied by one person.

I digress. Thanks to Rings, the "everything is made up and canon doesn't matter" rule of thumb now applies to the American remake franchise. As I've probably mentioned somewhere on here before, there's no love lost between me and these reimaginings. They fundamentally misunderstand what makes the originals work on multiple levels, content to throw a bunch of allegedly spooky imagery at us, tell us it's weird and creepy, then expect us to just believe it. I don't. The Ring is an acceptable but ultimately mediocre imitation of a masterpiece starring a Naomi Watts that just can't capture the reserved intensity of Nanako Matsushima. The Ring 2 is an unmitigated cocktail of sewer runoff that's emblematic of Hideo Nakata's decline in directorial prowess in recent years.

So where does Rings fall, then? Surprisingly, despite what some critics will say, I'd argue it falls squarely in line with the first reboot. I'll even go one step further and say that, in terms of raw enjoyment, I liked it a lot more than that Verbinski-fied remake. Because unlike The Ring, Rings has no pretensions of trying to be serious art. There's no attempt to recapture what made Ring and Ring 2 work so well, because let's face it - a modern horror director going toe-to-toe with 90's Hideo Nakata is a fucking laughable notion. With apologies to David Robert Mitchell and Mike Flanagan - those guys know what's up.

From the very outset, it's clear that the three (!) writers and director aren't trying to make a masterpiece. They're taking the Sadako vs Kayako and Sadako 3D 2 approach to this series, essentially - make it big, make it dumb, make it loud. The opening sequence involves Sada-... erm, Samara hijacking a plane by taking over every screen on the plane and flooding the bathroom. It's one of the biggest, dumbest, loudest things that can be done with the basic premise, and it's in the first five minutes. Because in Rings, there is no jumping of the shark. The shark's already miles behind from the get-go.

It only gets stupider. Secret biology party cults trying to write a thesis on the video tape curse. An evil priest chaining up a girl in his basement, then blinding himself to avoid a curse. An even more cursed video, stronger than before, that has image files embedded in the video which has another video embedded in it. "A video inside a video," as one of the barely cognitive protagonists puts it. This renders the "share the tape and save your life" rule moot,  you see, because the file is too big to copy.

No, really. That's a legitimate plot point.

These kinds of silly narrative decisions punctuate Rings. For most, they're a turn-off. For me, they made the movie much more enjoyable. Because I don't approach anything Ring-related these days with expectations of a subdued potboiler in the vein of the original film. Koji Suzuki, the original creator, abandoned that eons ago, when he made Sadako into an internet virus and a literal plague of AIDS. Similar batshit twists occur throughout Rings, all culminating in a resounding crescendo of absurdity that leaves room for a sequel that I'm aching to see. In a cinematic landscape where horror movies are dying to be taken seriously, it's refreshing to see one so willing to be stupid and revel in it. I'll take this over another movie about demonic possession or Blake Lively being terrorized by a shark any day of the week.

Is it a technically good film? Pff, no. The acting is atrocious, the characters make the absolute worst decisions possible, the pacing alternates speeds at an incoherent pace, the score is generic and uninspired. In spite of some really wonderful shot composition and a surprisingly strong grasp of mise en scene, Rings is a technically poor movie. Yet, if we were to apply the standards of quality cinema to every film, then we'd have to also call the original Evil Dead a bad film (a brilliant film with amateurish production,) and lavish praise on the Marvel movies (soulless pieces of garbage with a lot technical prowess behind them.)

See, when you're looking at a PG-13 horror film churned out by Hollywood, you have to compare like to like. And compared to every horror film I've had to sit through in the past year, Rings ranks at the top of the heap for me. Because I was never bored. I was consistently entertained, even if it was for the wrong reasons at times. Rings is good in the same way that Jason X is good - it's an exercise in gonzo stupidity, a grandiose experiment in how far you can stretch the premise of "creepy girl lives in a video tape and kills people."

In the same way that Koji Suzuki took that premise and pushed it to its complete extremes, Rings cribs things from both the American and Japanese franchises to make a hilarious, absurd film that's best seen with a group of loud, reactionary people. It's the very epitome of a "so stupid it works" and a "so bad it's great" type of film. Go in expecting a great movie, and you're bound to leave disappointed. Go in expecting a great time, however, and I'm almost confident that Rings is sure to have something worth the ticket price. Or, at the very least, worth catching on cable at two in the morning in a few months.

Also, Samara crawling out of a phone from underneath an army of bugs is one of the coolest visuals I've seen in a movie in a very, very long time.

Grade: B- 


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