Gore Verbinski’s 2002 horror thriller, “The Ring,” has aged considerably well over the last 15 years. An American remake of a Japanese classic, it jolted audiences with its clever hook, effective direction and strong central performance by Naomi Watts, who was coming off of her acclaimed work in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” I watch it every Halloween during my October horror movie marathon. The sequel in 2005 was good, but didn’t quite have the same impact. It’s not terrible, but hardly noteworthy. And now, we get a reboot of the material, because God forbid Hollywood comes up with an original horror movie every once in a while.
The screenplay for F. Javier Gutiérrez’s “Rings,” by David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman, doesn’t just rehash the old storyline, but turns it into its own narrative, much like last year’s “Blair Witch” reboot. The film starts with a nervous young man on a plane. There is turbulence on the flight, and he’s talking to a woman. His nerves are shot, because in a matter of minutes, it will have been seven days after he watched the famous tape, and received the call from Samara that says, simply, “Seven days.” Soon, he is dead, and we cut to two years later. A biology professor (Johnny Galecki) is at a rummage sale when he finds a VCR for sale. He buys it, and when he gets it home, discovers an old tape that simply says, “Watch Me,” in it. He gets it to work, and he watched the tape. We have seen it before in Verbinski’s original film, but an idea builds in him. We see him again when Holt (Alex Roe) goes to college, leaving his girlfriend (Julia, played by Matilda Lutz) at home. She doesn’t hear from Holt for some time, and goes looking for him. Suddenly, she is drawn into a bold, and dangerous, experiment the professor is running using the tape. He is using it as a springboard for a discussion of the existence of a soul, but we know there’s more to it than that, and after one of the teaching assistant’s dies after being unable to get Julia to watch it and make a copy, Holt and Julia are sent on a chase to discover what it all means, and how to stop it.
It’s good that “Rings” decided to mix it up with the Samara legend behind the tape this time around, rather than just rehashing what came before, and I like how the film teased at a larger scientific discussion about the nature of the soul, but once Julia is sucked in, and sees something more in the tape, all of that is abandoned, and we are left with warmed-over cliches following Verbinski’s playbook for the first film. The fact that they feel the need to expound on Samara’s history before her adoption by the Morgan’s, while also seeming to run counter of that with a backstory closer to home, feels like part of a larger issue in a lot of these horror reboots to “explain” more rather than just trying to scare the crap out of you. As a result, there really wasn’t anything in the film that “scared” or “shocked” me. After we saw Samara get out of the TV in that first film, we knew it was possible, and was never effective again. Nothing like that great scene on the ferry with the horse, or the opening scene that is reminiscent, in its suspense, of the opening of “Scream.” The story lost its novelty after the first film, and unfortunately, there isn’t a strong lead character this time around to anchor the film in reality. Instead, this simply feels like a made-for-teens schlock piece of horror, and while the ending does redeem it a bit, by opening up new possibilities, I’m not really interesting in seeing where it goes in that regards.