Guest Review: RINGS (2017)

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Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Written By: David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman
Runtime: 1 hr 45 minutes

I get scared pretty easily. Because of this, a lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much I love horror, but I think that’s why I love it: it doesn’t take much to scare me, no matter how cheesy the movie, so it’s easy for me to become engrossed in it. One memorable exception to this is 2002’s The Ring. I saw it for the first time in middle school and was severely underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I had waited until it was on DVD to watch it, and all of my friends who had seen it in theaters months before had overhyped it. Maybe watching it in the safety of my brightly-lit living room took away from the terrifying atmosphere that would have been created in a big, dark auditorium. Maybe it’s just a non-scary, overrated horror movie. Either way, because I was so unimpressed by the original, I didn’t expect much from a sequel released fifteen years later.

Rings follows Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she tracks down her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) at his college after he stops responding to her calls. She discovers he has been participating in an experiment run by his professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), involving a mysterious video that causes its viewer to be killed by the ghost of a young girl named Samara after seven days. The only way to prevent this fate is to have someone else watch the video before the seven days are up. In an effort to break the chain, Julia and Holt embark on a journey into Samara’s dark, tragic past.

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Making a sequel to a movie that centers around an outdated piece of technology already sets Rings up for failure. The idea of a haunted VHS tape being scary in 2017 is pretty ridiculous- hell, even a haunted DVD or Blu-Ray would feel outdated, considering how many people stream video now. Granted, Gabriel adapts the VHS to a computer file for his research, but the idea that this VHS would have still been floating around after fifteen years instead of collecting dust somewhere is far-fetched even for a horror movie. Even if they had updated the story by putting the video online, my suspension of disbelief wouldn’t stretch so far that I would accept that something like that wouldn’t go viral, leading to a ridiculous amount of widely publicized mysterious deaths.

In addition to the problems with the video logistics, the plot in general feels kind of lazy. At first, it seems like it’s going to be a more scientific, analytical look at how this deadly video chain letter works, but that storyline is soon abandoned when Julia and Holt visit the town where Samara was buried in order to discover the significance of that location. The former could have been really interesting if it had been the focus of the film, but instead we end up with more of the same: exploring creepy old places full of the same creepy imagery. I can’t even really say if the acting was good, because the cast didn’t have much to work with.

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Even if you can overlook the problems with the plot, there is little visually impressive about this movie. Samara’s first appearance is completely CGI’d, which looks surprisingly bad for 2017 animation. The same reveal could have easily been done through practical effects, which would have been much creepier and less jarring than CGI. Most of the movie has the same overused blue tinge seen in countless horror movies, making it feel even more unoriginal. Many of the images used in the movie are directly recycled from the first film. There was one scene I really liked at the beginning of the movie, a wide shot where Gabriel is facing wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out at a storm, and the view outside the window briefly flickers to a scene from the video. It was beautifully shot and wonderfully creepy, and there were a couple other short scenes involving Julia being trapped in small, dark spaces that were genuinely suspenseful, but one good shot and a couple decent scenes aren’t enough to save the movie.

I don’t even know why this got a theatrical release. The entire feel of this movie is “direct to streaming/digital download.” If you’re easily scared and very bored, maybe check this out once it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or money.

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Have you seen ‘RINGS’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Winter’s Tale

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Let me preface this review by saying that Akiva Goldsman should stick to writing screenplays or producing films instead of working behind the camera. In his debut feature, Goldsman’s wearing multiple hat as producer, writer AND director. The film takes place at the turn of the century New York City, where the protagonist, Peter Lake, has a Moses-like beginning. His immigrant parents [Russian?] were denied admission at Ellis Island and his dad set baby Peter adrift in NY harbor in a miniature model ship called City of Justice. Fast forward to about 30-some years and we find Peter (Colin Farrell, sporting an odd looking haircut) being on the run by some Irish gangster led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, trying his best to mimic Farrell’s Irish accent). Miraculously he’s saved by a winged white horse who later doubles as his guardian angel plus transportation. All of this sounds quite enchanting on paper but the plodding pace of this film didn’t exactly stimulate me, but I was hoping the story would pick up soon enough.

The horse then somehow leads Peter to a house where he’d inevitably meets the love of his life. As Peter is a burglar, he’s about about to rob her mansion when the chance encounter happens. It turns out that the beautiful but frail Beverly is dying, but that of course doesn’t get in the way of the two falling in love. Now I don’t know if her disease causes her to speak in some kind of poetic language because that is how she talks in this movie. I quite like Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sibyl from Downton Abbey) but the script made it tough to relate to her character and the schmaltzy-ness of it all is starting to get on my nerves. To top it off, I still have no clue what’s the deal with Pearly’s vengeance against Peter, and suddenly he now wants Beverly dead. It’s never fully explained why, but it’s quite obvious that this mission is a personal one for Pearly. He’s even more upset as Peter then snatches Beverly away from his grasp, thanks once again to the winged horse.

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The supernatural elements of the story just gets weirder, not to mention incomprehensible, as we meet Pearly’s boss named Lucifer. Yep, you read that right, the fallen archangel/devil himself, played by Will Smith. It’s quite an odd casting choice but really that’s the least of this film’s problem. So the the lord of ALL evil beings in the universe lives in a dingy tower with only a twin bed and lit by a single lightbulb?? [shrugs] Neither Pearly nor Lucifer are the least bit menacing nor sinister enough to make any real impact, and the whole conversation is so cringe-worthy that my mind kept wandering just how much Crowe and Smith got paid to star in this stinker. Both actors (as well as Jennifer Connelly) have worked with Goldsman before so I wonder if this is some kind of favor they’re doing for him or something. I read somewhere that Goldsman wrote the role of Pearly with Crowe in mind, hmmm not sure that’s a compliment for the Aussie thespian after seeing the film.

Farrell and Findlay did their best to sell their romance and I have to admit there are some touching moments but overall it just wasn’t as gripping than it could’ve been. By the time the film takes place in present day, I’m still barely invested in any of the characters and the story remains a huge mystery to me, and not in a good way. Apparently Peter is immortal as he doesn’t age a day in his life and here he meets a couple of new people, as well as someone from the past, played by Jennifer Connelly and Eva Marie Saint. Despite the A-list ensemble’s (especially Farrell at his most earnest) best efforts to win us over, they’re all wasted here by the cloying and over-sentimental script that drags early and repetitively. The behind-the-scene talents are equally first rate but none of them can really save this film. Hans Zimmer‘s score is pleasant to the ear but it also heighten the lovey-dovey mood of the whole thing. Caleb Deschanel‘s gorgeous cinematography of New York City is quite a feast for the eyes, but it makes my brain desperately ache for something meaty to feast on as well.

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The agony is complete with an ending that is utterly predictable and so gratingly mawkish that would make any of Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation seems gritty. There are themes of good versus evil, love, life, loss and redemption here, but the narrative is neither cohesive or compelling. Plus it’s chock full of trite dialog with dreary lines about *destiny* and *everything is connected* mumbo jumbo. It leaves me scratching my head as this comes from the writer of A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, but this mishmash script is perhaps more akin to Batman & Robin which Goldsman also wrote. 

Final Thoughts: All the talks about miracles, stars and magical moments amounts to a film that is totally devoid of magic. It’s really a shame as reading the premise of the novel later on (which was altered quite a bit for the film) makes me think that Mark Helprin‘s mythical story deserves so much better. We don’t get enough romance fantasy so I was really hoping this would be a decent enough movie even if it’d probably fall short of Goldsman’s grandiose ambition. Well, I really wasn’t expecting to see one of the worst films I’ve seen in a long time.

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What did you think of Winter’s Tale?