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Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 10:12 pm

Surprising “Rings” Outdoes Predecessors

Not having been a fan of The Ring (2002) or its sequel, I had no great hope when Paramount Pictures announced a third entry/reboot was in the works. Surprisingly, Rings proves to be superior to the two previous movies what with its streamlined story and eerie atmosphere courtesy of Spanish director F. Javier Gutierrez.  Taking the premise of the first film, the script from David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman expands on that tale providing a worthy and logical continuation, finding new life in a concept that was seemingly wrung dry in The Ring 2.

Having left his loyal girlfriend Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) behind to go off to college, Holt (Alex Roe) finds himself in over his head when he agrees to help one of his professors (Johnny Galecki) with an experiment involving a certain supernatural videotape he’s come into possession of.  Yep, he’s taken a look at that creepy cinematic nightmare from the first two movies and he has seven days to live, unless he makes a copy of it and gets someone else to watch it.  Julia catches wind of this, decides to help Holt and before you know it, she looks at the video in order to take his place.

Samara makes a gruesome return in "Rings."
Courtesy Paramount Pictures

This setup is rather pedestrian but the investigation the two leads embark on in order to find the origins of the tape takes some unexpected turns that make the backstory of the cursed video richer.  Re-watching the centerpiece film is a bracing reminder of what a haunting, disturbing piece of work it is with its monochrome images of dead horses, a lone woman plunging to her death, a cryptic lighthouse and that famous desolate well in the middle of nowhere. Equally effective is new footage that mysteriously pops up within the original film, including glimpses of a flooded cemetery, a burning corpse and a mysterious doorway.  The cryptic, disturbing tone of the tape casts a pall over the story and provides understandable motivation for the characters.

Gutierrez proves to be a master of crafting one unnerving, atmospheric scene after another, suffusing his shots with shadows as well as a greyish hue that creates a perpetual sense of doom, an oppressive world that’s constantly overcast, holding nothing but bad luck for all who live in it. The filmmaker’s penchant for intrusive camera placement – close shots that inch nearer and nearer to Julia as death approaches her – effectively increases the tension.  The level of skill on display helps elevate the material which very easily been done on the cheap.

Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) gets an unwelcome visitor in "Rings."
Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Strong support is supplied by veteran character actor Vincent D’Onofrio as a blind priest who gives some key clues as to the origin of the new footage while Lutz provides a quiet strength to Julia making her a sympathetic character we can’t help but hope will escape the fate that’s befallen her.

Films such as this tend to live or die by their ending and Rings has a doozy, a conclusion that doesn’t feel forced or tacked on, but one that’s an extension of the movie’s internal logic. Not only does it provide a plausible way to extend this series but it proves shocking both viscerally and metaphorically in underscoring how infectious fear can be and how quickly it can spread.   

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