2002's horror phenomenon The Ring was a rare success: a well-made and effectively creepy American adaptation of a Japanese horror. The Ring was tense, uncomfortable and scary. Its new sequel/spiritual successor, Rings, is none of those things.
Dull, lazy and uninspired, Rings is a throwaway horror flick that fails as a sequel as well as a standalone film. After an action-packed intro scene that teases the promise of a silly but fun thrill ride, Rings devolves into a mess of awkward dialogue, hasty, half-explained plot twists, shaky character motivations and not much else.
The plot of Rings is difficult to summarize, despite its dead-simple simplicity, because it changes direction so frequently. We go from the aforementioned action scene to some sort of cyberpunk, biological experimentation on the afterlife led by university professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, one of the only actors really trying to make Rings interesting) to a series of prolonged, plodding investigation sequences. Even the great Vincent D'Onofrio as a mysterious blind man can't save this film.
Our protagonists, high school sweethearts Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe), are wooden and lack any charisma. To be fair to Lutz and Roe (who aren't great), it's partly because they barely have characters to work with. We're given one sentence of backstory for Julia — she apparently has a mother who "needs her," enough that it stops Julia from attending college, but we never hear another word about her family situation again.
This is just one of many instances of sloppy writing (Holt later enters a diner with dozens of patrons, despite the fact that apparently only 250 total people live in this particular town). It's a distracting element, especially on top of a plot that's already shaky and hard to follow. The characters don't have conversations with one another; they only talk at each other, delivering line after line of exposition. After the first 10 minutes, not a single line of dialogue is spoken for any other reason than to further the plot.
The cinematography is annoyingly busy, too — the camera is always moving, even when it doesn't need to be. It's a lazy way to distract the audience, an attempt to convince them that something is happening when nothing is. And damn, does a whole lot of nothing happen in Rings.
It's easy to excuse a dumb horror movie if it's full of fun, interesting scares. Rings, though, commits a cardinal sin for horror: it's boring.
There is scene after scene of characters looking at things, shining flashlights on things, Googling things or reading about things in a book. Aside from a couple of lame jump scares (one of them is just a guard dog!), barely anything about Rings even qualifies it as a horror movie. We don't know these people or care about them, and unlike most other Ring films, we don't even see the progressively worsening symptoms of being cursed by Samara (Lutz delivers a monotonous voiceover at one point about how she's "tired," which is hardly frightening stuff).
Without any stakes, Rings offers nothing for us to be scared of. (Paramount)