What if messages from beyond the dead could unlock the mystery of the afterlife? Rings attempts to explore the possibility of life after death and the importance of honoring one’s past.
Warning: Spoilers below
Rings begins with a late night plane ride descending into the Seattle Washington area. A passenger has seen the ring video a week ago and is slated to die within minutes. The plane’s video monitors begin to flash the ring video. In canon form, the girl from the ring video crawls from the screen to claim her victim and kills everyone on the plane.
Life After Death
Two years later, the video falls into the hands of a biology professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki). He discovers a way to save himself from dying after viewing the ring video. When you create a “tail” (a new viewer), you live and the curse is passed on to the tail. The video drives Gabriel to chase the idea of proving the existence of life after death. As if channeling Dr. Hunter Hap from The OA, Gabriel’s study becomes obsessive. Gabriel sees participants as data for his study, something to help further proof of quantifiable evidence of an afterlife, or at the very least, how a soul can travel from one being to the next. At the same time that Gabriel discovers the tape, Holt (Alex Roe) is off to start college at the same school where Gabriel is a professor. After being in Gabe’s class, Holt becomes involved in the tail experiment. His involvement in the experiment causes his hometown girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) to go looking for him. Her discoveries lead her to Gabriel, and later Holt.
The idea of what happens to a soul when a person dies is nothing new. Religions and the arts have explored the possibilities of this concept for centuries, but the idea is only met briefly in Rings. Gabriel’s experiment hopes to show how a soul needs a host when the body dies, but Holt and Julia fail to explore this idea outside of their own experiences.
Julia watches the video to save Holt, which leads the trio to discover that Julia’s copy contains extra footage. This, coupled with Gabriel’s research about the video and the girl that crawls out of the video (Samara Morgan). Julia begins to realize her experience is different because Samara is attempting to communicate with her directly.
The couple’s journey up to the small town where Samara was buried shows the beauty of the pacific northwest but has a very Twilight Saga feel to it. When the couple arrives in town, they conveniently find a picture that gives information about why Samara is reaching out to Julia.
The couple goes through the small town noticing places from Julia’s version of the video as they go along. They question anyone who will talk to them about the history of the town, leading them to Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio). Burke is a knowledgeable blind man who attempts to give them guidance about Julia’s quest to find Samara.
While these bits of background are interesting and play into the story of Samara, the story as a whole is disappointing. The villainous character in town who works to keep Samara’s story quiet is intelligent and insightful, yet his existence in the town seems questionable considering what Julia and Holt have discovered. The discoveries of why Samara’s video is still running rampant contradicts the earlier ideas about a soul needing a live host to exist. The ideas presented in why Samara is reaching out to Julia have solid foundations in history, but these are minor details in the story.
Likely the most disappointing aspect of the story is the ending. Samara’s story could have been wrapped up well in this installment. Instead, the story leaves room for additional films at the expense of the story. This paired with the underwhelming exploration of soul travel makes Rings fall short.
What Rings Gets Right
What Rings does accomplish well is its ability to make use of today’s technology. Rings almost flaunts the idea that today, there is no way to really escape the Internet, social media, or instant access to information. Rings uses technology to its advantage to keep the characters moving along.
Recycling the initial ring movie at first seemed cheap despite being canon, but the addition of Julia’s portion as a way for Samara to communicate was a nice touch.
Visually, the film does well early on. The plays on light and the silent serene moments that contrast the horrors of what is happening elsewhere are well executed. The film makes great use of the beauty of Washington state. There are beautiful moments of hyper-focus on small details during key moments. These moments alert us to the possible greater connection in the cycle of life that is unfortunately left behind in the plot.
Overall, Rings lives up to the poorly done horror sequel that is seen all too often in today’s films.
Despite the efforts, it’s hard to feel connected to Julia and Holt in a way that makes you truly feel for their struggle. The villain of the film is interesting and intimidating, but it isn’t enough to carry the film. Horror fans will quickly see the common mistakes made by most protagonists in poor quality horror films.
Rings had a chance to pull off a decent sequel with a strong backstory but missed the mark.