Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Samara returns in new 'Ring' sequel

The original 1998 Japanese horror film "Ringu,"directed by Hideo Nakata, adapted from the novel Ring by Kôji Suzuki, became a pop culture phenomenon. Its main character, the vengeful ghost Sadako, with her long black hair covering her face as she crawled out of a well on video and out of the TV to kill her victims, became a cult icon recognized, feared and parodied to this day.

In 2002, Hollywood produced its own version of this film, called "The Ring" directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Naomi Watts. For this American version, the name Sadako became Samara Morgan, which, for me, lost some horror points already. But the critics and public loved it. For the 2005 sequel, "The Ring Two," they even got Hideo Nakata himself to direct, but the reviews were considerably poorer.

I was very surprised to learn that after 12 years, there will be yet another "Ring" sequel this year called "Rings." I then learned that this film was supposed to have been released way back September 2015, but its showing had been pushed back three times until it ended up only being released this month. That did not sound too promising, but I wanted to see where they were taking this mythology.

Julia is alarmed that her boyfriend Holt has not been calling her from his college. When she goes to look for him, she discovers that he had taken part in an experiment conducted by his professor about watching a certain cursed videotape which threatened to kill the watcher after seven days if he was not able to make a copy and make another person look at it. Since Holt's seven days was already running out, Julia decides to watch the video for herself to save him, putting herself next on the line to be killed unless she finds a way to break Samara's curse.

There are no A-list actors on the cast. Do not expect too much acting-wise. Matilda Lutz cannot convince us that her character Julia was that brave to do the things she did, like enter an empty tomb, or go down an abandoned flooded church basement, or confront the suspected killer all by herself. As Holt, male lead Alex Roe was just Julia's pretty consort, nothing more than that. He played the loyal boyfriend but was not really there in much of Julia's daring investigative escapades.

One of the only two actors whose names I recognized is Johnny Galecki who played Holt's Biology professor Gabriel Brown. He is a egotistical jerk who started that video experiment among his students to save his own hide in the guise of scientific inquiry. Imagine him as his "Big Bang Theory" character Leonard, only totally and seriously demented.

The other is Vincent D'Onofrio who played the role of the burly blind man at the cemetery, Galen Burke, who seemed to know a lot about Samara but is not letting on. Being blind, there was a time there when this character was involved in a suspenseful situation very much like that in "Don't Breathe" (2016).

Spanish director F. Javier Gutierrez stuck to the muted palette with that distinctive bluish green filter pervading the screen. Samara's horror is not scary like before anymore, since we already know what she does when she comes out of that well. Gutierrez had to come up with other ways to scare us, mainly by jump scares with startling sound cues. With the update in technology, Samara can now reside in an mp3 file. Copying and sharing does not seem too difficult anymore as well.

I do not get the reason why Julia was different from the other people who watched the video. Why was she the one who seemed to have been specifically chosen by Samara to liberate her? Why was Julia the one who received additional images in the video she copied, providing her several clues as to where Samara was buried? If the reason was mentioned, I did not catch it.

I think fans of the original "Ring" will still find that this sequel stayed loyal to the lore, further unearthing another angle to explore, that of Samara's real parents. This may be interesting for the duration of the film, but will ultimately be forgettable in the long run. Just like the VHS tape which she originally inhabited, I think Samara/Sadako already had her time to scare us 15 years or so ago. Any more efforts to exhume her, like this one, will just prove needless and unproductive. 4/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."