Rings (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Rings (2017)

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Samara Morgan will never rest now that she's part of the digital age.  A researcher looking into the existence of the soul thinks he can control Samara's vengeance, but is unaware of the evil that can pour out of any screen.  F. Javier Gutiérrez directs Rings, with the screenplay written by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman, and stars Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

It's been a long time since I felt this disappointed over a forced sequel hook.  Despite a meandering middle section filled with the kind of bog standard horror investigation that needs to be trimmed, there are fascinating aspects to the logical conclusions Rings arrives at.  I've long wondered what would happen if the literal viral video starring Samara Morgan was introduced to modern technology. Since we're in an age of quickly passed misinformation bordering on outright lies, Rings feels relevant in a way the previous American Ring films didn't.

Our society is saturated in violent propaganda right now with a Commander-in-chief callously using technology to seed fear into an already tense population.  There are easy parallels to the anxiety on the rise, Americans dying younger, and the only benefit going toward corporations who don't have to worry paying out as much in retirement.  Fitting - then - that the villain of Rings isn't Samara or casual ignorance.  Gabriel Brown (an excellently cast Johnny Galecki in full arrogant mode) thinks he can control the flow of information to prove there's some greater purpose to our existence.

Most of the discomfort in Rings comes from the mutual knowledge between voyeur and target that they're being watched.

The command center Gabriel oversees to conduct controlled experiment with the tape (that I'm sure would not pass any ethics commission) recalls the Orwellian tech nightmare seen in the spectacular documentary We Live in Public.  Screens stacked with more screens and video cameras placed everywhere serve as a constant reminder that Julia (Matilda Lutz) is being watched.  While short on outright scares, the subtle shifts in perspective as Julia realizes she sharing her space with the cold stare of a camera, is unnerving.  Each glimpse at another camera or observation station is a reminder of how impersonal our connection with technology has become.

Rings opens with the contextually logical conclusion of a violent spirit introduced to this tech.  There's a nice pullback shot from the opening Paramount logo to show the images is of an in-flight movie starting up.  Those familiar with Samara's camera lurching murder technique will have a vague idea of what's coming up.  I have to admit that the overwhelming number of screens Samara had available to emerge, combined with the black ooze spilling from the airport bathroom, combines a number of fears (flying, paranoia of someone spying on your life, filth that won't wash out) unnerved me in a way that had me fully invested in what Rings had in store.

On the left and right of contemporary American politics we see people without filters spewing garbage conspiracies about whatever topic suits them that day.  Our ability to control access to these poisonous people is gone.  Whatever sins they or other parties commit are broadcast with insane clarity, and there's little way to stop the flow of uncensored images of unjust violence (like the murder of Philando Castile.)  I'm never more than two clicks away from seeing the worst our world has to offer, and Samara's embrace of the virality of our poisonous addiction to despair makes her an unlikely ethical champion by forcing the confrontation with mortality that can so easily be dismissed with a couple of clicks or a destroyed power line.

The same narrative weakness of earlier American Ring movies finds its way into Rings. A solid forty minutes or so of its run-time is devoted to the standard horror road trip to uncover the history behind the video.  For those who are already familiar with the lore, these sections are unnecessary retreads of previously available information.  Folks new to the series are left with loosely connected scraps of evidence building to an underwhelming confrontation.  The uncertainty and fear bred through the video, combined with someone foolish enough to think they could control it, made for a gripping opening act the rest of Rings squanders up until the ending that cuts away before getting to the "good stuff."

The ominous experiment room of shadows against screens is Rings' primarily visual achievement.

On the subject of squandering, Vincent D'Onofrio shows up as an ominous blind man who provides information and does little else.  His confidence in explaining parts of the horror is at odds with the events that robbed him of his vision.  Aside from Galecki, who suggests a sleazy comfort in his actions that makes me think of Steve Buscemi, none of the other performers make much of an impact.

Rings is much better than I expected even if its collection of fascinating ingredients doesn't rise to a quality whole.  There's enough meat left on the stretched out premise to wonder what another creative team would do with the implications of Rings if given enough freedom.  It was a decent enough box office hit, so I'll hope for the best, but if it's another retread of this retread it might be time to plug up the circle and kill the power to this series for good.

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Rings (2017)

Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez.
Screenplay written by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman.
Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

Posted by Andrew

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