Movie review: Horror flick Rings, a spin-off from Japanese classic Ringu, brings back old ghost in digital format

Matilda Lutz plays the girlfriend of a college student and contortionist Bonnie Morgan reprises her role as Samara the ghost from The Ring Two.
Matilda Lutz plays the girlfriend of a college student and contortionist Bonnie Morgan reprises her role as Samara the ghost from The Ring Two.PHOTO: UIP

The sequel bait to The Ring Two, where the ghost goes digital, is lame with the leads putting on wooden performances

REVIEW / HORROR

RINGS (PG13)

103 minutes/Now showing/ 2 stars

The story: College student Holt (Alex Roe) is embroiled in a project led by his lecturer, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), who is researching a video tape that kills anyone who watches it after seven days. When Holt's girlfriend Julia (Matilda Lutz) is exposed to the tape's footage, the trio must unravel the mystery behind the hex before time runs out.

Hideo Nakata's Ringu and Gore Verbinski's American remake, The Ring, were released in 1998 and 2002 respectively.

The two movies and Nakata's American sequel, The Ring Two (2005), featured a creepy little ghoul who would scare her victims to death unless they made a copy of the video she appears in and show it to someone else, passing on the curse like in a chain letter.

This was back in the days before websites such as YouTube and Know Your Meme existed. You could say Ringu's antagonist Sadako and her American incarnation, Samara, were cinema's first viral- video stars.

Now, 12 years after the release of The Ring Two, the ghost in the machine has gone digital.

Like in the earlier movies, there is that found footage with disturbing imagery, which Gabriel converts into a QuickTime video to curse his study participants. They, in turn, have to get other people to watch it, lest they risk Samara - played by contortionist Bonnie Morgan reprising her role from The Ring Two - spider-crawling out of their flatscreen TV sets or smartphones.

This pyramid scheme with lethal consequences alone would have been a great premise as an exploration of meme propagation and youth peer pressure. Galecki's nutty professor also makes for a more interesting protagonist than Julia and Holt. Alas, this Internet-era subplot is dropped halfway and the film retreads the investigative-road-trip plot of the first two films, as it follows the bland and at times dense teenage couple to Samara's hometown.

There, a blind cemetery groundskeeper (Vincent D'Onofrio) delivers some exposition. But by then, it is hard to care in the face of Samara's convoluted origin story or the leads' wooden performance.

Director F. Javier Gutierrez tries his best with the lacklustre script; sometimes relying on cheap jump scares, other times staging genuinely creepy moments such as rain falling in reverse or Julia's visions of a locked door being pounded on from the other side.

There is also a spine-tingling role subversion at the climax where Samara comes to the rescue, but a ham-fisted twist ending throws any previously established rules out the window in a lame sequel bait.

The VHS format died last year with the production of the last video-cassette recorder. Maybe it is time to put poor Samara to rest too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Time to put poor Samara the ghost to rest'. Print Edition | Subscribe