Hot Garbage Express: Rings (2017)

Bonnie Morgan in Rings (2017)

From IMDb: A young woman finds herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that threatens to take her life in 7 days.

The thing is, I knew I was going to hate this movie. But I heard that it had a good scene or two, and thought the movie would be a candidate for the list of “Bad Films with Great Scenes” list I created last week. I was wrong. With COVID-19 in full swing and an inability to get movies free from the library like usual, I even resigned myself to paying money to stream this (!).

I am a huge fan of The Ring, and I could tell based on the trailers this was going to be bad. This movie does a lot of wrong, in part because it attempts to repackage a paranormal thriller as a teen slasher. Complete with an astoundingly bland teen couple as the main protagonists, and arbitrary death scenes to pad the number of kills.

I don’t want to dunk on this movie without first acknowledging its merits so let’s talk about the good stuff first. Julia’s viewing of her “custom” cursed tape and disturbed reaction is a brief highlight. The extra footage added to the tape does fit pretty seamlessly into the tape’s original content without going overboard and getting cheesy.

I like that the film starts by addressing a “what if…” that has surely come up when thinking about the curse. What if someone made sure they were on a plane when Samara was going to come for them? It doesn’t execute this moment that effectively, but I appreciate it addressing it.

Also, the finale hints at the curse getting uploaded online and going viral which is another neat “what if…” thought. Unfortunately it doesn’t explore this at all, but it is trying to make an effort to acknowledge how a cursed VHS tape would work with modern technology making VHS tapes obsolete.

Both these elements have a smack of fanfiction to them, and that is perhaps the most apt description of this movie: it is like a bad, OC (original character) fanfiction written about The Ring. Complete with an OC that is so devoid of personality she is perfectly suited for the viewer to insert themselves into her place.

The film is trying to take the very personal story of Rachel and Aiden in the first two movies, and build it up to an epic, viral story. This is perhaps most obvious after Professor Gabriel watches the tape, and we got a wide shot of the large window panes in his loft apartment, looking like a bunch of TV screens, flashing briefly to an image from the tape and dwarfing him in comparison:

Bonnie Morgan in Rings (2017)

But even though the film hints at a viral outbreak of the curse, it never actually goes there, and instead duplicates the first film with bland, unlikeable characters in the place of the ones we grew to care about in the first film. From what I understand, some of the thematic elements in this film are present in the original Japanese book series the movies are based on. But they are so poorly executed in this film it makes it hard to appreciate the exploration of the original source material.

If I may try my hand at writing my own The Ring fanfiction “what if…” for a moment, I think a better way to have approached the curse going viral is to start the story after the tape has been uploaded onto Youtube and shared on social media platforms. Teenagers would predominantly watch it, with some young adults thrown in who would see it shared by younger family members online. Most older people would just turn it off after a few seconds and wouldn’t get cursed. Everyone would treat it as this creepy thing that isn’t actually serious because that would be crazy right? There would be think pieces and Twitter threads hypothesizing that the video is either a marketing ploy or satire of our obsession with viral content. Celebrities and Youtubers would post reaction videos to the tape. There would be a couple of Reddit threads and posts from people trying to say “but seriously…is anyone else seeing weird things?” but they would be largely ignored till it was too late.

But then a significant portion of the population would actually die seven days later, and none of it would be funny anymore. Maybe the stray person who made a copy would be saved, but people would have largely watched a single copy so most people would die who watched the whole thing. There would be calls to delete the video and never, ever speak of it again. But unlike hyper localized urban legends like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees who could be reduced to a whispered campfire tale if needed, we can’t simply forgot a viral video that trended online and killed our youngest generation in one fell swoop. Now, Twitter would trend with “#PleaseDontWatchTheTape” and think pieces would talk about government conspiracies to eradicate certain populations with the video.

People would call for the video to be taken down and completely destroyed, and pundits would get into debates about the First Amendment and personal autonomy, with people arguing the tape needs to be preserved and remembered so nothing like this could happen again. Some would say people have a right to choose if they want to watch the tape, and advocate for it as a way of commiting voluntary, assisted suicide. Some people would advocate for trying to appease Samara some other way. The movie overall would serve as a commentary on the way we process massive, tragic events as a society.

Anyway that’s my version of Rings! But let’s focus now on walking through the movie we ended up getting instead:

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

The movie starts with a character trying to escape Samara on a plane flight. No such luck as Samara appears on every monitor of the plane before coming out and getting him.

Honestly after dark airplane bathroom water soaking you, Samara almost instantly killing you seems like a blessing

Two years later, a professor named Gabriel who is supposed to seem hip but just seems pretentious picks up a VCR and an undergrad student at a flea market. We learn the VCR belonged to the guy who died on the plane before because Gabriel 1) found this out from the person selling it at the flea market and 2) he tells the undergrad student during their weird flirting session over the VCR.

The VCR comes preloaded with a tape just hand labeled “watch me” so naturally the professor does. You might not believe this, but the mysterious tape is a cursed tape courtesy of Samara.

Quit Trying to Heal Samara! Rings Won't Let a Great Screen Villain ...
Hey I need that tape back Blockbuster still has me on the hook for it!

We then jump to the aforementioned astoundingly bland teen duo. Julia and Holt are sharing a bittersweet goodbye sexcapade because Holt is going off to college that day. And Julia is just going to…hangout. Like seriously we never find out what she does for a living or what her aspirations are. Is she still in high school? Does she come from a working class home where she has to forgo college to support her parents financially? No one cared to give her a back story other than being bizarrely enthralled with Holt.

Jump Scares In Rings (2017) – Where's The Jump?

When we first meet Wonder Bread & Mayonnaise, Holt is mansplaining the myth of Orpheus. Julia cuts him off after a bit and mentions that she too took 9th grade English which is honestly one of the only good moments in this entire movie. Holt mentions that he would also have trouble not looking back at her like Orpheus looked back at Eurydice. Please remember this nonsense because it will pay off later.

Their sexcapade is disrupted by Holt’s father yelling for him to get ready. Why these teens are allowed to have a sexcapade WITH parents home nobody knows.

Fast forward, and we are treated to some Skype sessions between Julia and Hold while Julia just hangs out in their hometown I guess. And meanwhile we wait for the inevitably entertaining “high school couple attempting to stay together long distance through college” breakup we are surely in store for. It seems near when Holt is pulled away from a Skype call by his bro-like friends to go to “7” which sounds like a mysterious nightclub and it sort of is?! He then stops responding to Julia’s messages so she decides to go look for him.

Julia then discovers “7” aka “S Club 7” as it will now be dubbed is where Professor Gabriel lures undergrads into watching the cursed digital video he made under the pretense of them receiving extra credit in helping with an experiment to prove the existence of a soul/life after death.

S Club 7

Professor Gabriel promises anyone that watches the cursed video a “tail” – someone to watch the video after them to keep the cycle going sans the murder. Skye, Gabriel’s undergrad booty call from earlier, is very upset that her time is running out and he hasn’t supplied a tail yet. She realizes Julia doesn’t know any better, and tries to trick her into watching a copy of the video. Holt finally responds to her texts and begs her not to watch the video. Samara comes and takes Skye while Julia hides in the bathroom, and now Holt has a lot of explaining to do.

Julia is upset he got involved in S Club 7, but decides to pull and Orpheus and watch his copy so he will be safe. But alas! When she goes to make a copy, there is extra footage in the video, and Samara has already left a mark on her right away. What could it mean?

The strange history of the 'Rings' franchise - Los Angeles Times
Finally a family spending time together around one screen like back in the good old days

Professor Gabriel insists Julia watch the new video, and suggests Holt not watch it because whatever is on there is clearly for Julia. Holt acquiesces, and sits next to Julia facing the opposite direction the whole time because his bitch ass is no Orpheus after all.

I hate the cheesy love story between these characters so much

Julia and Holt go on a goose chase trying to learn about Samara’s lineage which rips off the first movie as much as possible. Professor Gabriel knows the police are going to come after him because the undergrad student he slept with ended up being murdered after joining S Club 7. Before he goes on the run, he realizes something important about the mark Samara left on Julia’s arm. But rather than saying what the mark means, he just leaves Holt a voicemail asking that he call him back. And then he takes off in order to become another body for the body count. This leads to an interesting question: why does Gabriel die? The only reason I can think is because he was going to tell Julia what the mark on her arm meant, and Samara didn’t want her to know. But then…why make the mark on her arm in the first place? I digress.

More haphazard goose chasing happens including meeting a man named Burke who is blind and has therefore avoided Samara’s wrath.

Vincent D'Onofrio and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz in Rings (2017)
Cursed tapes don’t kill people the ghosts that come out of cursed tapes kill people

Holt and Julia eventually realize this man is Samara’s father, a priest who kidnapped and raped Samara’s mother Evelyn. Burke goes into crazy priest mode spouting off all sorts of nonsense while Julia tries to uncover Samara’s skeleton which he has hidden behind some half ass fake wall despite the fact finding her skeleton and trying to give it a proper burial is EXACTLY what Rachel tried in the first one. Are we supposed to not know The Ring exists? At least in Friday the 13th they kill Jason a different way each time. This is just repetitive.

Anyway Burke tries to kill Julia, revealing others have tried to help Samara and he has killed them too. Julia drops her phone, and Samara decides it is time to make her debut entering the world from smart phone screens.

Samara unclouds Burke’s eyes and kills him, and Sleepy Holt busts through the door to “rescue” Julia who obviously has no use for him because he sucks at everything. We are treated to another sequence of giving Samara a proper burial (this time a cremation), and the movie pretends things are done once again because it is blantly ripping off the first movie right down to the execution of the “twist.”

But wait! Didn’t Professor Gabriel mention something super important about Julia’s mark? And isn’t it weird she still has the mark considering she arbitrarily decided cremating Samara’s skeleton would put her soul at ease?!

Turns out the mark is Braille because…Samara likes to be passive aggressive apparently. And the mark says “Rebirth”. That’s right…Samara isn’t just stopping at updating her tapes from analog to digital – she is uploading herself into Julia’s corporal body. I guess Samara also agreed that Julia seemed purposely underwritten in order to insert oneself into her shoes.

Crunchyroll - Forum - Person above you is your senpai. What would ...
I guess Holt and Julia will be breaking up soon after all.

And that’s Rings. I hope you have not watched this cursed film – it is rumored if you watch it you will spend at least 7 days knowing you wasted 102 minutes of your life.

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