Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Alex Roe, and Aimee Teegarden
Anyone who knows my tastes in movies knows that the horror genre is perhaps the only genre where I would consider seeing a bad entry for a second time.
I’m at a loss to explain why. Although there are many films in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise that I hate with a passion, I still revisit said films on occasion, both the good and the bad. I hated the 2005 film Boogeyman, and yet, the idea of seeing it again doesn’t turn me off in the slightest. There is a sort of charm to bad horror movies that (sometimes) makes them as enjoyable as some of the better genre films. Of course, I wouldn’t revisit every horror movie that I consider bad. Some of them are charmlessly awful, while others are offensively so.
The 2017 horror film Rings begins in a harmlessly stupid fashion, with the sort of hilariously inept performances and shoddy screenwriting that you would expect from a January released horror show. It even takes in one of those horror movie small towns that I love so much, with Gothic cemeteries, abandoned churches, and a quiet Bed and Breakfast run by an older women with crucial plot information.
There are elements here for a delightfully bad horror show. We get a monumentally silly opening scene where a guy who’s seen the killer video tape gets on an airplane the very day he’s supposed to die (smart!). We have a thinly developed heroine (Matilda Lutz) who doesn’t go to college with her boyfriend because she has a sick mother who is only mentioned once in the beginning, but is never seen or mentioned again. We get a shady biology professor (Johnny Galecki), who has seen the evil video tape and decides to trick a few students into watching it and passing it on to other people in an experiment to prove the existence of the human soul (don’t even ask).
The movie’s director F. Javier Gutierrez makes one colossally bad decision after another. There’s one sequence where our heroine finds herself locked in an apartment bathroom that could have been frightening if we were not allowed to see what was happening outside that one room. Think of how much more effective it could have been if we stayed inside the bathroom with the heroine and only heard the horror that was happening outside. Unfortunately, Gutierrez shows us everything, because somebody apparently told him that special-effects are scarier than anything that the audience could imagine.
The screenplay by David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman is catastrophic mess. It’s never interested in updating the killer video tape mythology for a story that takes place in our modern digital age, adds a subplot involving “new footage” which only confuses the plot, and features scenes of such amazing stupidity that the only appropriate response is to laugh at it. Take the scene where our heroine and her boyfriend drive upon an accident that’s brought traffic to a complete stop. The cops and paramedics are gathered at one spot in the road, but not a single one of them seems to care about the car that’s flipped over in a nearby ditch (which, of course, contains an important character).
All of this stupidity is something you expect in a January-released horror movie, and for a while, I was merely chuckling and shaking my head. But then the script decides to delve into the past of the ghostly Samara, and that is when things started to turn offensive. As a practicing Catholic, I have no problem with movies that feature sexually abusive priests, as long as the movie deals with that serious topic in a thoughtful and engaging way (like 2014’s Calvary). In Rings, however, it’s used for shock and exploitation, and the results are astonishingly tasteless.
I don’t know who decided that the movie should take such an ugly and unnecessary route. For a good hour or so, the movie was working in a so-bad-it’s-entertaining sort of way, but when we get to the scene where the “evil priest” is on top of the heroine, strangling her, and screaming “May the Lord save you,” I felt more than a little angry. When we learn how said evil priest ties in with Samara, I was enraged. I was able to chuckle through much of Rings, but by the end of the film, I felt unclean and very unhappy.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
Rated PG-13 for violence, some language, thematic material, brief sexuality, brief drug material