“Rings,” the latest sequel in the franchise that began with the Japanese film “Ringu,” is short on outright frights, but some effort certainly went into the storytelling. For one thing, by the time this one’s over, fans will know a lot more about the mysterious Samara, the dead girl who continues to terrify the living via a grainy videotape. And those nearing or in college – the demographic being aimed at here – will learn an important lesson: Beware of any professor who tries to recruit you for a research study.
In case you’ve forgotten, the foundation of the franchise is a short videotape full of unsettling images that unsuspecting people keep stumbling upon; anyone who watches it dies seven days later. The original Japanese film, by Hideo Nakata, was an influential hit, and the 2002 U.S. version was pretty successful, too, boosting the career of its star, Naomi Watts. (“The Ring Two,” in 2005, didn’t do as well.)
There is no Watts in “Rings,” directed efficiently by F. Javier Gutiérrez, but there is a heroine in jeopardy, Julia, played by Matilda Lutz. Julia’s boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe), has gone off to college and been sucked into a research project by Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, of “The Big Bang Theory”), a professor who accidentally acquired the lethal videotape at a flea market. Gabriel has realized that the curse can be beaten if, during the seven-day period, the afflicted person gets someone else to watch the tape, and so his research is predicated on a sort of lethal pyramid scheme.
Julia is determined to rescue Holt at any cost. Vincent D’Onofrio makes an embarrassing appearance as a blind cemetery caretaker, and Samara (Bonnie Morgan) is given a full backstory. The death-by-VCR conceit has been pretty thoroughly exhausted at this point, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery – see, for instance, “Beyond the Gates,” which came out in December. So this film doesn’t find any fresh ways to make you jump out of your seat.
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Lutz is appealing, though, and fans of the franchise will probably be pleased with the elaboration. Too many horror sequels are content merely to recycle what worked the first time.
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Rated PG-13 (gore and general creepiness)