Lego’s new “Hidden Side” theme is the only thing I need forever

I’ve been kind of bummed lately, what with the state of the world. Our headlong rush into fascism, irrevocable climate change, and, worst of all, the encroaching start of the school year have made me even more pensive and angsty than usual. Fortunately Lego is offering something starting in August that will blow all of that garbage right out of my dumb head and replace it with a fresh set of plastic ghouls and bizarrely sharp bricks with which to, I guess, build them. Things.

I speak, of course, of Hidden Side, the new Lego theme that involves ghosts. It apparently also involves other stuff, like some kids who hunt for said ghosts. But I have no time for that, ghosts being the only part that matters FOREVER

Hidden Side also involves some AR component where you’ll use your phone to interact with the sets somehow–mostly by shooting multi-colored fireballs at them, if the trailer is any indication. I don’t hold out much hope for this particular gimmick: if the past half-decade or so have taught us anything about AR, it’s that it seldom holds anybody’s interest for very long. (To wit, half the touted functionality of the Nintendo 3DS.) And the whole thing seems to be a somewhat blatant attempt to cash in on Stranger Things mania. But honestly, I’m okay with that, because Lego ghosts are pretty much my reason for breathing.

Rings (2017)

It’s no secret that I love all things Ring. Even when I’ve hated the movies, I’ve continued to love the conceit of them. The first films (both the Japanese original and the remake) remain among my favorite scary movies ever. And as I’m sure I’ve said before, the Japanese prequel, Ringu 0: Basudei was pretty good too.

The originals had that bizarre eeriness, that slow burn, that weird high-pitched sound effect in the background, and that totally delicious atmosphere of dread that only the best genre films seem able to evoke. They were scary without being garish–with perhaps one or two exceptions in Verbinski’s American version.

Rings, the 2017 nobody-asked-for-it sequel, unfortunately bucks the trend by being a complete piece of irredeemable shit. It’s guilty of the worst sins of popular film making. It’s lazy, it’s transparently derivative, it’s written like an episode of the worst teenage drama dreck, and worst of all, it cynically attempts to cash in on the love of franchise fans.

The plot is garbage: Julia and Holt just graduated from high school. Holt goes off to college while Julia stays at home, apparently to help her parents with some pressing family issue that’s never identified. (Or if it was identified, I just didn’t care enough to catch it.) Julia and Holt talk online every night, until suddenly Holt goes MIA. Then Julia has a weird interaction with another young woman through Holt’s Skype account, which prompts her to drive to Holt’s school to track him down. She learns that Holt has been sucked into a nebulous research project involving the cursed video tape, led by college professor Gabriel, who apparently took his PhD in Screwing Around with Outdated Media and Also Ghost Hunting. The project involves tricking lots of students into watching the video, but providing them with “tails,” people to whom they can show copies of it. (As you’ll recall, this is the way to avoid being killed by the vengeful ghost, Samara.) Apparently this will somehow help Gabriel eventually prove the existence of the soul, because Hollywood.

Julia of course watches the video, because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, and then naturally decides that She Is Going to Get to the Bottom of This. Cue the usual sequence of “research,” i.e., frantically running from one obscure-and-isolated-but-conveniently-accessible place to another, collecting spooky scribbles that inevitably constitute the clues to the supernatural mysteries, and witnessing hallucinatory visions of supernatural significance because the ghost wants to help pad out the film’s run time. It’s the formula boiled down to its purest and stupidest expression.

Why stupid, you ask? Well, pull up a chair.

Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz is terrible as main character Julia, utterly one-note and emotionless, acting almost exclusively by proclamation: “That’s where we need to go.” “She’s in there.” *pause to open a sealed crypt* “Someone moved her.” Gag. Alex Roe, who plays boyfriend Holt, is at least sufficiently similar to actual college students to get a pass, but that isn’t really praise. The one known actor here, Johnny Galecki, plays a college professor who apparently speaks entirely in Smarm, even outside the classroom. Secondary characters are universally awful.

As always, though, it’s hard to say how much of the blame lies with the actors, and how much with the writers, who have turned in a script so full of teeth-grindingly stupid dialogue and horror cliches that no actor could possibly spin it into a decent film. And the truly aggravating thing is that it’s not stupid. I mean, it’s grammatically correct, and more or less complete as a narrative. It’s just  cheesy and melodramatic and awful by virtue of completely failing itself, its franchise, and its genre. As is so often true, this could have been something good. And as is also often true, it doesn’t seem like it really even tried.

The film also attempts to bring a kind of closure to Samara’s story, explaining her origins and the real reason behind her haunting. This is stupid and cheap and insulting–not the idea of finishing a story per se, but the way in which it’s executed. And of course it doesn’t bring any real closure, because they can’t foreclose the possibility of more sequels. 

Its only redeeming trait is that it has the sound effects and music from Verbinski’s original. But then again, these are just lifted straight from that far superior film as a kind of shorthand to remind you that, hey, this is The Ring! Only it’s really not. It’s the awful 2018 Slender Man movie with a swapped-out supernatural baddie. I guess if you watched this with the sound off it might be good as a generic Halloween background. Otherwise, don’t bother.