This is the third American film in the series inspired by Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ring Trilogy’. This was a hugely popular set of novels in Japan about the ghost of a girl called Sadako Yamamura, who was killed by being thrown into a well, and who then, in her afterlife, created a cursed videotape. Anyone who sees the tape, dies within a week, unless he/she can copy it and get another person to see it. The novels were such a cult success that they inspired a ‘Manga’ series (uniquely visualized comics), and several movies in Japan and South Korea, before horror movie producers in America latched on to it and came up with an all American girl version, based on Samara Morgan, a similar character.
It is a set of films that teenagers love to watch. It is also made abundantly clear, at least in this edition, that the lead actors in the film are not cast for their acting prowess. They may as well just read out their lines, and do a lot of heavy breathing, interrupted by intermittent screaming. Nor is there any effort on the part of the director to create a special design for the film. Every image has been seen in countless movies in the genre; including a black bird hitting the windscreen of a car, a gravestone that opens into a room, a blind man who uses a walking stick as a weapon, and much else. The videotape itself has the fragmented black and white footage of visuals from classic imagery on dreams and the sub-conscious, some of which look lifted from classics from the surrealists of cinema, and at least one from Bergman’s ‘Persona’.
‘Rings’ begins with a boy and a girl who have seen the videotape and are on a flight. They are both panic stricken as they are aware that their week is up, and they are going to die. You could call it their seven day glitch. Sure enough, the aircraft’s computer system goes mysteriously haywire, disorienting the pilots, and the plane crashes. A few years later, when videotapes have been replaced by pen drives and the internet, a college professor called Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) gets hold of an old VCR and finds the cursed videotape still in it. Since he teaches some obscure course about the afterlife in his classes, he analyses it as the testament of a trapped soul. Then he makes the fatal mistake of treating his students like guinea pigs, puts the video on a pen drive, and passes it around.
A girl called Julia (Matilda Lutz) finds that her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe), who is a student of the good professor, is not picking up his phone. So she investigates. When she gets to the college, Julia finds that all hell has broken loose. Her boyfriend has been shown the film by his quirky professor and has made a copy of it, so he is safe for the moment. But many other students are in danger. While it is true that a difficult college assignment is sometimes seen by undergraduates as torture, this may be the only one that is correctly perceived as a death sentence.
But apart from the aesthetic inadequacies of ‘Rings’, it is interesting to see how the horror genre is so globalized and how the idea of the transmigration of souls is redefined from one culture to the next; in this case from Japan, to South Korea, to the United States. The primordial image of a girl bowing down, with her hair covering her face entirely, is an image central to the original Japanese icon of the onryō spirit of Sadako Yamamura. It is an image of grief, the traumatization of a girl, which is then transmuted from one cultural image to another.