It's been more than ten years since we last saw the vengeful Samara and her videotape of death, and nearly 20 years since Hideo Nakata's J-horror phenomenon Ringu kicked off this succession of scares. Rings ushers the franchise into the smartphone era, but the flick is decidedly unsure of how to align itself with the modern world. iPhones merely replace rabbit-eared TVs here -- director F. Javier Gutiérrez doesn't imbue the proceedings with any fresh energy, essentially treating Rings as just a reboot for a new audience.
A college professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) stumbles upon a VCR at a flea market, which, of course, contains that infamous, fast-cutting recording of death (its maggot-crawling, static-filled creepiness was always the best part of this franchise). He watches the tape and gets the trademark "seven days" phone call of doom, kicking off the cycle once again. Meanwhile, the industrious Julia (Matilda Lutz) bids farewell to her hunk boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) as he leaves for college. When Holt stops answering Julia's texts and calls, she makes a beeline to the university to check on her beau; there, she discovers that he's now involved in Gabriel's experiments with the videotape (converted into digital form, finally) as they try to unlock the metaphysical mystery behind Samara's reign of terror. Julia soon becomes the key to the whole ordeal after watching a copy of the video, her gaze apparently unlocking never-seen-before secret passages. Yeah, they actually have a character say that "it's a video within the video," like this is some Scary Movie spoof of Inception. The young couple then hit the road in search of answers. Also, Vincent D'Onofrio shows up in the last third as a blind guy who becomes a main character.
Director Gore Verbinski's The Ring -- the 2002 Americanized remake of Ringu -- specialized in dread-soaked atmosphere, pacey storytelling, and genuine scares (which kept this impressionable reviewer awake for many a night in his youth). This 2017 edition can't sustain that aura of creepiness, and gets bogged down by its lengthy runtime and unfocused plot. Gutiérrez and his team of writers tried to deepen the mythology of the Ring universe, but it's ultimately an exercise in futility, while the endless, schlocky dialogue zaps the film of any kinetic energy that it could have used to develop its scares. Perhaps Samara should have taken a cue from last year's Blair Witch mishap and stayed dead.