RINGS 1 star Vincent D'Onofrio, Laura Wiggins, Aimee Teegarden, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki; PG-13 (violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material); in general release
People who have seen 2002's "The Ring" should avoid "Rings" because director F. Javier Gutirrez's sequel is pretty much a reboot of the first film's story, right down to the third act twists.
People who haven't seen 2002's "The Ring" should avoid "Rings" because "Rings" isn't scary, and "The Ring" is.
You can see where this is going.
"Rings" is the latest film about a mysterious videotape that kills you seven days after you watch it. The video essentially two minutes of bizarre black and white footage that look like it was culled from a German art film summons the vengeful spirit of a young girl named Samara who was murdered as a child. In "The Ring," Naomi Watts was able to figure out that the footage referenced elements of the murder, and tried to put the matter to rest. Fifteen years later, Samara is apparently still at it.
Samara will even kill you on an airplane, which is what happens to some unfortunate passengers in a brief prologue before "Rings" delivers us to a thrift store where Johnny Galecki from "The Big Bang Theory" is shopping for old VCRs. Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel who teaches some kind of experimental science at a nearby college.
When Gabriel discovers the killer video in his newly acquired VCR, he decides to use it to conduct an experiment on his students, because he apparently is the most evil college professor on Earth. One of his students/guinea pigs is Holt (Alex Roe), who just arrived on campus after a tearful parting with his girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Lutz), back home. When Julia begins to notice Holt's strange behavior, she heads to campus to officially take over as the film's protagonist.
Julia locates Gabriel's experiment, where he has helpfully converted the video into a digital file, ushering the urban legend into the 21st century. The idea of the experiment and the potential viral delivery of the killer video briefly suggest some fun may be ahead, but Gutirrez just uses the technology to introduce a brand-new video embedded in the old one that sends Julia and Holt off on another treasure hunt into Samaras past. By the time Julia meets a blind man named Burke (Vincent DOnofrio, in a surprising cameo) in a beleaguered village called Sacrament Valley, "Rings" takes on the distinctive scent of a recycled story, and nothing that happens from there suggests otherwise.
The rehash might be more forgivable if "Rings" were able to match the disturbing tone of the first film (and supposedly Ringu, the Japanese version of "The Ring," is even better), but the only tension Gutirrez is able to milk from his plot is the stress of knowing something is about to jump out at you, and waiting for it to happen. Even then, the jump scares still feel like mild hops.
Rings mimics the original films visual dreariness, unsaturated color and state of perpetual dusk. The actors are all in horror mode, behaving like everything is really creepy even if their interactions are completely routine. They behave like we're supposed to care about them, but the script-by-committee gives us so little time with Julia and Holt before they are tossed in harm's way that they pretty much feel like placeholders. Even the new art film content of the embedded video blended with images from the first film feels routine.
Sadly, "Rings" is likely to deliver well below the most modest of horror fan expectations. Gutirrezs film probably won't kill you seven days after you watch it, but you'd still be best advised to skip the experience.
Rings is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material; running time: 102 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Weber State University. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.