There’s a good horror movie hiding somewhere within the garble of Rings. This mess should come as no surprise considering the confusing state of the Ring universe. While this is the second sequel to 2002’s The Ring, it’s actually the second Rings in the American series, as that was also the title of the 2005 short film bridging the first two features. In addition, there are multiple sequels to both the film and book versions of the original Ringu, as well as a Japanese television remake (also called “The Ring”), a South Korean remake, a manga series and multiple pornographic parodies.

The sheer volume of The Ring-related media speaks to how strong the premise is: unknowing (mostly beautiful) victims watch a mysterious VHS tape (remember those?) and then receive a phone call in which a young girl simply tells them, “Seven days,” after which time they die horribly. Koji Suzuki’s original 1991 novel was a metaphor for the panic that mass video distribution raised in many households. It is relatively forgotten now, but back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, parents were terrified of their children getting their hands on videotapes with questionable content inside, particularly from unregulated foreign sources. The potency of The Ring’s presence has survived because that fear of the unknown lurking in a video clip has only multiplied with the dawn of near-universal internet access.

However, it’s this strength in Rings’ origins that ultimately leads to its demise. The writers were obviously overwhelmed by decision-making and rather than focus on one strong idea they instead introduce multiple plotlines, each based on a different facet of Ring mythology. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez shows his skill in a thrilling opening scene that finds a panicked airplane passenger revealing to his seat neighbor that he watched that video and only needs to survive five more minutes in order to make it past the seven-day threat. The opening scene lasts only about five minutes and barely relates to anything else in Rings, but it’s plenty creepy and nervous fliers in particular should keep their eyes’ covered.

Two years later, hipstery biology professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki of “The Big Bang Theory,” playing a less funny version of his television persona) stumbles upon the ill-fated airline passenger’s VCR at a street market and buys it. Inside lurks the demonic videotape, which he watches. The contents, inspired by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s 1929 short film Un Chien Andalou, are the same as those shown in The Ring and still hold up today.

After another time jump (this time six months), Rings introduces its main characters, star-crossed teenage lovebirds Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe). The chemistry between Lutz and Roe is tangible, and there is a sweet, if heavy-handed, reference to the Orpheus myth that seems as if it is going to set the trajectory of the plot. However, it’s abandoned before it gains any traction.

Instead, Holt disappears and Julia goes looking for him at college, assuming infidelity. Instead, she finds that he has fallen into a cultish existence under the wing of Gabriel, who has not only uploaded the evil video onto computers but has figured out a way to get around the whole “dying after seven days” irritation by finding volunteers to “tail” a participant by watching the video before that participant’s seven days are up, thus restarting the cycle. Gabriel is trying to use the video and its evil inhabitant, series villain Samara, to prove the existence of the afterlife.

This premise is even more intriguing than the one on the airplane or the love story between Julia and Holt, but it ends just as abruptly. Instead, the film turns into a semi-reboot, kind-of-remake, but still-sequel to the original film. Holt and Julia go in search of Samara’s origins (which are incredibly confusing by this point in the series, though Rings tries to fix this by including expository footage from The Ring and The Ring Two). While this move feels tired, it is accompanied by a new video, filled with even creepier imagery than the original.

Rings then stalls for a bit before moving in an exciting, surprising new direction in its final moments. However, like the other attempts at plot, it’s not given enough time to earn much of a response. That’s a shame, because everything except the script is top-notch. Lutz has a commanding screen presence and both Sharone Meir’s cinematography and Matthew Margeson’s score are particularly striking. However, like the exciting glimmers of potential that pop up in the story, these good parts end up just making Rings even more of a frustration, because it could have been so much better.

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