You’ve gotta admit that you really haven’t stumbled upon a winner of a scary movie if you have to struggle to stay awake, and if it’s taking every last ounce of dedicated film critic in you to resist the temptation to head home before the feature ends. As a diehard fan of the original film The Ring, I had amazingly high hopes for this third film in the series, Rings, and remained undeterred as the release got pushed back month after month. But perhaps in retrospect, much like the film’s protagonists who watch a VHS tape and then are told by a raspy voice over the phone that they will die in seven days, the signs really couldn’t have been clearer that things would not go well.

Rings opens on an airplane, when a guy with a fear of flying confesses to his seatmate that it’s not the tumultuous turbulence he’s scared of, but a VHS tape that he saw. You know, the one that kills you a week after you see it? That one. (Yes, the screenwriting really is that robotic). We suffer a painfully early, predictable, and banal reveal of Samara—the girl at the center of the franchise who was unfortunately killed by her mother and dropped into a well, so she of course went on to inhabit a grainy VHS tape that its viewers must copy or show others in order to avoid her wrath. Duh. Anyway, Samara wins, and the whole plane crashes.

Useless opening? Yes. Scary? No. Helpful plot device to lay the groundwork from the prior films? Not at all. Frustrated yet? Just getting started. So now we get to the film’s actual main characters, right? Actually just kidding, it’s just a professor played by Johnny Galecki who buys an old VHS player and accidentally watches the tape, gets the call, and starts seeing rain cascade up his windows. End scene. Um, what?

Ok so now for real the film starts. For realz. We meet a sugary-sweet, helplessly-enamored couple, Julia and Holt, who sappily struggle to work out the kinks at the beginning of a long-distance relationship. When Julia doesn’t hear from Holt, she ventures out to track him down in person, only to find that he’s seen the tape, he really doesn’t want her to, and together, they try to figure out how to shrug off the curse.

They end up learning about Samara and her untimely death at her mother’s hands, and we all get a new glimpse into why Samara’s mother went so crazy. Or so I think we do? Honestly I kept falling asleep. There’s now some new themes involving cicadas, some blind priest dude wildly wielding a cane played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and I’m pretty sure Julia is supposed to have some special connection with Samara, who seems to be trying to get her to do something.

I honestly couldn’t pay much actual attention even while I was awake because I was too distracted by the heavy-handed special effects, the ghost of Samara popping up on screen every two minutes, and the emetic dedication Julia and Holt have to endlessly making sacrifices for each other. It’s as if someone threw the most basic elements of a horror film and a Nicholas Sparks novel into a blender. And then dumped it down the drain.  And then released it as a film. On top of it all, the dialogue seems only to serve one purpose: to clunkily explain the plot. Or rather, to shout it: “It’s Samara’s mother!” and “She wants me to find her and break the curse!” and “You knew all along!” Oh and have I mentioned, “It’s this VHS tape that kills you in seven days if you watch it.”  Let’s just say the dialogue has about as much stealth as Sean Spicer trying to “alternative fact” his way out of a lie.

Plus, Rings misses all the reasons why The Ring is such a terrifying film—and to be fair, perhaps it’s not all its fault. First, the VHS tape itself is simply disturbing. It’s a string of black-and-white video clips and stills so unpredictably dark that they remind you of your absolute worst nightmares, and make you feel like you just got a peek into what hell must be like. But how can you recreate that when everyone already saw the tape in the first film, and the plot itself demands the tape remain unchanged? Second, The Ring was so great because the whole time you’re trying to figure out if Samara is good or evil, and just when you realize she’s the latter—spoiler alert—she physically crawls out of the television at her prey. But once you’ve seen that scare how can you recreate it? I’ll tell you one way you don’t do it: throwing her hair curtain up on the screen at every turn and using cheesy jump scare tactics to do it. Finally, Rings is fighting an uphill battle: technological advancement. VHS tapes. Landlines. Static. In a world of unfriending and likes, of winks and swipes, is there even room for these ancient dinosaurs to develop an effective scare anymore? Doubt it.

SpecialK Verdict: Much like campaign promises brought to fruition, perhaps everyone should have seen this failed film headed our way.   At a time when everything I thought I knew to be true is careening out of my control, I can at least offer you this simple act of kindness and perhaps rein in a bit of madness: don’t see Rings.

Rings (finally) opened February 3. 

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