by Ren Zelen
In Rings we have the long anticipated sequel to Ring, the English language remake of the hugely successful Japanese horror Ringu. We also have a kind of Samara origin story, but this storyline seems to be less a labour of love, and instead, rather laboured.
Rings has a 15 certificate which should indicate that it’s being aimed at the teen-scream audience and this becomes immediately obvious as we are introduced to inevitably good-looking teen Julia (Matilda Lutz) who is seeing her impossibly good-looking boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) off to college. The pair are madly in love of course, so parting is such sweet sorrow etc…
However, after a few weeks of lovey-dovey skyping every night, boyfriend Holt suddenly breaks off all communications. He has, we discover, fallen prey to the unorthodox experiments of his biology lecturer Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) who has been exploring the dark urban legend of a mysterious video said to kill the watcher seven days after viewing, and naughtily using his students as volunteer video-watchers, to see what might transpire and to open a gateway to the ‘other side’ (yes, mad, overreaching scientist alert).
Apparently, Holt cut off all communication to ‘protect’ his beloved Julia, not anticipating that this might be the very catalyst to bring her over to the college hoping to unravel the mystery of what has happened to her dishy and devoted bae. Luckily the screenwriters worked that one out.
Julia arrives just in time to see an attractive female student become a lot less attractive, after she gets what’s coming to her from Samara. She is also reunited with a panicky Holt – who is next on the list to get all dead and ugly.
Contrary to his wishes she watches the cursed video to save his pretty face and buy them some time, but discovers that Samara is providing a “movie within the movie” for her eyes alone – one that no one has ever seen before. These disjointed, grainy, black-and-white images inexplicably invest Julia with the power to have ‘visions’ and provide a series of clues which lead the pair to a creepy town with an even creepier graveyard janitor in Vincent D’Onofrio, but mainly serve to give everyone something to do for the next hour of the movie. I won’t spoil any more of the fun for you.
Ringu, the celebrated Japanese horror movie that started it all, was released in 1998 (The Ring, the not-too-bad American remake, came out four years later). We should remember that in the dark ages of the nineties, VHS tapes and creepy death-threat calls through landlines were not as yet, a form of ancient technology.
Also, in Japan and Korea, there is a belief that there may be an integration between ghosts and forms of technology that they might inhabit and control. The original horror of the Japanese Ringu played upon the possession of technology by a malevolent spirit, the vengeful Sadako — the ghost in the machine — and the Japanese version used its disturbing flash-cut black-and-white videotape, with its jumpy, surreal images as a metaphor for the potential menace of technology itself.
In Rings there is a waffling attempt at explaining the evil potency of the videotape, now transferred to a digital computer file, with some reference to quantum physics, but basically, the original Ringu storyline is here reduced to a watery puddle. Samara’s Well, it seems, has finally run dry. The original premise finds that it has nowhere to go, except, appropriately enough, round and round in ever decreasing circles.