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involving the cursed video tape, led by college professor Gabriel, who apparently took his PhD in Screwing Around with Outdated Media and Also Ghost Hunting.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.

 

 

“Pet Sematary” (2019)

Church is murderous and hateful and the Avatar of All Cats

Dearie me, what to do with this?

Pet Sematary is back again, because maybe remakes remind us of a time when the world wasn’t literally burning and we weren’t ruled by a syphilitic madman. I guess I could make the obvious resurrection joke, but I’m better than that. Unlike this film, alas. (Ohhh, snap.)

I don’t get why we needed this, but I was still looking forward to seeing it because I love the conceit of Pet Sematary. But what directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have done here is something wholly unlike their wonderful Starry Eyes. That film played smartly with genre conventions, riffed on David Lynch, and gave us something wholly absorbing and unexpected. Pet Sematary, on the other hand, feels like the product of an out-of-touch board meeting, stale and unnecessary and not at all what people want. If you saw the 2015 Poltergeist remake, this feels very similar. There are no drones, but there is a similar failure to justify releasing a remake in the first place. And, like Poltergeist, this remake features a few gimmicky shout-outs to the original. The effect is something like opening a fast food mustard packet to find it full of ketchup, and vice versa. Unexpected, yes. Pointless, entirely.

For example–as you’ll already know from the trailer–it isn’t baby Gage who dies this time, but big sister Ellie. There’s no clear reason for this change, and it seems (perhaps unfairly to Ellie) less horrific, simply because Gage is a baby and there’s nothing more horrible than a baby dying. The scene where Gage is running toward the road ends with Lewis snatching him at the last minute, only for Ellie to take a truck to the face instead. (Mustard when you expected ketchup.) The change also means that we’re subjected to some very generic and unconvincing “evil” acting by the resurrected Ellie, all monotone and gravely and eeeeeeevil because she’s, you know, eeeeeeeevil now. (Bland, generic, yellow mustard.)

John Lithgow is John Lithgow with a beard. I like John Lithgow, so, there’s that.

Jason Clarke as Louis channels Dale Midkiff, who first played the role, in weird ways. Specifically, the two share a strangely flat gaze that seems to persist regardless of what the rest of their faces are doing. There are some moments where Clarke’s Australian accent pokes through, begging the question: in 20-freaking-19, why not just make the character Australian? Australians can marry American people and move to Maine. You want us to accept undead cats, for chrissake. I think we can accept Ozzie ex-pats.

In the end, Pet Sematary lands among the most “meh” of films. It isn’t terrible, but it’s far from good. Watch it when it’s streaming, but don’t pay the dozen+ dollars it takes to see it in a theater. If we want movies like this to stop, we have to stop paying for them.