The Sequel I Tried to Like: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2

The Houses October Built 2. 2017. Directed by Bobby Roe. Screenplay by Roe & Zack Andrews.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, & Jeff Larson.
Foreboding Films.
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 12.14.39 PMLet’s get this straight, I’ve been a huge fan of The Houses October Built since it came out. After seeing it, loving it, I looked for the original documentary that came out a few years before by the same director, the same people. There’s a palpable fear about the first film, one that gets under the skin and works at you, rarely letting up. It also had the benefit of a group of actors who were clearly close friends, reflected in the final product as well-developed, genuine characters.
But, oh, this sequel. After it was announced, I was excited. Not every movie needs a sequel these days, but it felt like there could be more to the story, if the filmmakers were so inclined to show us. The Houses October Built 2 promised plenty, ultimately delivering on little to none of what I’d hoped.
Where I was expecting another gruelling experience, rooted in the unknown yet all too human, I got only a retread in familiar territory. Not great ones, either. What’s more, the tension is near non-existent. The original was a tense experience, one haunted house attraction after another. Even when frights were expected, they were creepy, at times truly frightening. By the time the big reveal comes, it’s too late in the game. What’s worse is the ending feels like a massive bluff, in a bad way. Not that the audience is disrespected, it’s just cheap, it takes away what little power was built in the climax. If the first film wasn’t so damn effective this experience wouldn’t have been as disappointing.
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The Good

Always love when a sequel gives us a taste of happened directly after the events of its predecessor. As in literally; we begin following The Houses October Built‘s finale, after Blue Skeleton has taken the group, Brandy’s pulled out of her grave and left on a desolate road. Then, it’s interesting how Brandy is framed as the wholly central character here, as opposed to just one out of a group. She and her friends, though mostly her, become internet celebrities after it was all livestreamed.
Spectacular premise. Brandy as Coffin Girl, known all over America in the state-to-state haunt circles, promises the possibility of different themes than the first. Along with that is the evolution of the haunt, the various forms of the haunted house attraction getting scarier, or more involved, some including virtual reality elements. These new bits and pieces make for the sequel’s best, most effective elements.
The Blue Skeleton POV shots following the group are chilling, perhaps the more nerve-racking sections in the film. We’ve seen this before, but now the mood changes from one of a sinister playfulness to entirely sinister altogether, malevolent. Considering the overall lack of tension, these interludes are the ones that hook the viewer efficiently, keeping us on edge and in suspense of what might happen next down the road.
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The Bad & The Ugly

Quickly during the opening sequence, the atmosphere of the first film goes out the window. Whereas we spent The Houses October Built entirely in that found footage perspective of the group, this sequel goes for traditionally shot scenes, going so far as to include drone shots that feel totally out of place, like they had a drone and decided just to use it for the sake of using it. The earliest drone shot isn’t their camera, it’s an opening shot similar to the one that opened the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, meant as an establishing shot. Here, it’s disorienting, and immediately there’s a sense the first film’s fantastic atmosphere will not carry over.
The found footage sections are all manipulated, too. They’re edited with music, little intros to some of the haunts. Not a total stickler for the unwritten rules of the sub-genre, sometimes people nitpick too much. However, at a certain point if the filmmakers don’t at least try adhering to them whatsoever, there’s a disruption in how we related to this type of film, and it also makes you wonder why bother doing it as found footage.
The worst sin is a dearth of tension. The Houses October Built felt harrowing in particular moments, from the actual haunts themselves to the strange cast of characters the group encounter while spiralling down a rabbit hole looking for Blue Skeleton’s extreme, travelling haunt. There are no quiet, creeping moments of terror, none of the ominous characters we saw in the first like sort of gatekeepers on the road to some horrific place. This never comes to fruition in the sequel, we’re treated to a skull mask turning up in one of the haunts as Brandy spies it and gets unnerved; this doesn’t come until about 70 minutes in.
We’re left bored until over an hour in. Despite any of the creepiness which follows, the build-up doesn’t match the pay off. The last 25 minutes work well, sadly the preceding hour and fifteen don’t provide the tension necessary to make Hellbent, their final attraction destination, as unsettling as it could’ve been. Worst of all, there’s a moment in the end where we’re led to believe a shocking, nasty, tragic act has occurred, only to be twisted around and shown this was an illusion of sorts. It’s a scene that makes the viewer feel cheated. More than that, it would’ve been perfect to end the film there and then. Instead the filmmakers undo the impact of this shattering climax, spoiling the plot with an utterly abysmal finish.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.47.58 PMIt’s hard to judge sequels separately as entirely different entities outside of a franchise. Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween; some of the films in these series’ don’t particularly link well with the others, whether intentional or just because of poor writing, and so it allows us to look at particular entries as a sort of standalone film even under the name of a franchise.
The Houses October Built 2 is very much meant as the second blow of a one-two punch, the sequel works as a direct, sequential follow-up to the first. You can’t take this one as its own film, they should both work in conjunction. On the one hand, the plot continues perfectly, losing no continuity. On the other, we get none of the same atmosphere, none of the same mood, as if we’ve stepped out of this story’s universe and into another.
I’ll always love The Houses October Built, it’s undeniably one of the better found footage horror flicks out there; definitely at the top of the heap in this decade. Because of that love, I can’t help but be disappointed, it’s hard to contain. I always try going into a film without being predisposed to expectation, no matter how much I look forward to the experience. Sequels are always tough, in that light. I gave this a chance. Even without comparison to the other, this one feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe we’ll get a third film to redeem this little series. Until then I’ll stick with the first.

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KILLING GROUND is a Fierce & Frighteningly Human Survival Thriller

Killing Ground. 2017. Directed & Written by Damien Power.
Starring Tiarnie Coupland, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen, Stephen Hunter, Aaron Glenane, Maya Strange, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Ian Meadows, Julian Garner, & Tara Jade Borg.
Hypergiant Films/Arcadia
Rated R. 88 minutes.

Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
KILLINGGROUND3The first feature film from Damien Power, Killing Ground, comes disguised as a survival horror-thriller we’ve all seen before, in which a happy couple camping in the wilderness come upon the scene of a grisly murder, only to be caught in the cross-hairs of the killer. While other well known entries in the survival horror sub-genre both start and end how we expect, Power gives his film extra power in his method of storytelling, as well as with unexpected characters and the surprising plot. Not to mention he conveys the story’s brutality without resorting to showing anything overly graphic, nevertheless illustrating a central theme: man is a worse beast than any animal.
When lovers Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head out to a beach in the middle of the bush, they setup their tent next to a family’s campsite, though nobody seems to be around. As time passes no one returns, and the couple become suspicious. At the same time we watch events from the days prior, discovering exactly where the family from the campsite have ended up and what’s become of them.
Like an Aussie Deliverance, yet somehow even more devoid of hope, Power’s Killing Ground pulls no punches. In 88 slick minutes, the story of Sam and Ian and the other campers collide in a brutal, tense exercise in terror. By telling the story in sections moving from the young couple to the other group of campers, and further segues to some local hunters, Power amplifies the tension as we hurtle toward a savage climax that manages to elicit dread without feeling the need to be cheap and nasty.
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Power could’ve easily made a by-the-numbers thriller. Likewise, it wouldn’t have been hard to fall into a trap of exploitative filmmaking. Killing Ground does go for the jugular, it just doesn’t do it the same as every other thriller of its ilk. There are a few instances of downright cruelty, but the power of the film’s horror is built foremost on the way the story’s told.
The immediate focus is on Sam and Ian, an endearing, normal couple. As we get to know them we’re also introduced to the family from the now abandoned beach campsite, a day or so prior to current events. In between these two main plots is a view into the lives of two deadbeat local hunters. Power weaves the three plots together, creating a particularly tense storm of events; a storm we see coming. It’s the fact we do see a horrific confrontation coming down the line which allows such palpable fright to set in slowly.
The storytelling puts the audience directly in Sam and Ian’s shoes. They sit on the beach by the abandoned campsite, not knowing where the people are, while the audience gradually becomes aware of the what the other campers have experienced. This feeling rises to an unbearable boiling point. When Power finally snaps the tension, the film’s climax and finale play like any camping aficionado’s worst nightmare. Best of all, it’s not ham-fisted how other similarly themed films play out, opting for something more unsettling than jump scares and explicit gore.
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There are two huge reasons why Killing Ground is so effective. First, a large part of why the film works as a whole are the characters; they’re not archetypal, instead they’re interesting and at times unpredictable. Sam and Ian aren’t a couple with dark secrets hidden from one another, in fact the young couple specifically go on a journey that exposes things about themselves they never actually knew in the first place. They are real, three-dimensional. Same as the local hunters, whose depressingly real socioeconomic situation feels more unsettling than that of nameless, faceless villains in the woods in other survival movies. As all the characters and their paths merge, the tension is fed by the audience’s investment in these people.
Once Power has the audience gripped in the lives of the characters, and after we’ve discovered more of the plot of the camping family, he sets about grinding us down with pure terror. However, it’s how he executes the horror of his story which sets the film apart from many in the sub-genre. For instance, there’s a nasty element of sexual assault hovering over certain scenes. Even in the gruelling moments Power opts to leave most of the physical horror either off-screen, suggested, or not the prime focus of the camera’s lens. In a way, not seeing certain moments intensifies their impact.
It’s amazing how heavy the savagery feels in the moments that do include violence, considering how relatively little we see. Most of the on-screen blood depicted is after the fact of death; there are no slasher-type scenes where blood and gore flies, knives enter skin, so on. Another significant portion of horror comes out in the portrayal of humanity amongst the various characters. It isn’t solely about the evil men do, it also involves what men won’t do, and also the evil they’re not willing or able to stop.KILLINGGROUNDCOVEROne of the hunters owns a dog, whom he takes hunting often. But in the context of the plot’s events, the hunter unleashes the dog in an effort to help him and his hunting buddy in their villainy. The interesting part is that the dog won’t hurt any humans; clearly evident in a scene where the dog sits protecting a victim left in the woods by the hunters. The dog, though only visible at a few points, parallels human beings; particularly to men. The audience gains a further, devastating sense of Ian’s character through the dog, too.
There comes a moment when Ian makes a decision ultimately giving us the verdict of his character as a person, not simply one in a movie. This makes a statement on his own personal nature as a human being, on his tendency of fight or flight. Sam interprets his decision in an honourable way: after one hunter tosses the campsite family’s baby in the woods and leaves it for dead, she believes Ian has left her alone to save the child. Later, we see the hunter’s dog with the injured infant, standing guard in the woods in case anybody comes near. Again, men and animals are juxtaposed, with the dog coming out on top as the more honourable creature.
One of the major differences about this film compared to other survival movies is its ending and how it speaks to human nature. Whereas many of these movies conclude on a totally dark note, others finish with optimism as the hero, or heroes, overcome their would-be killers and triumph. Somewhere amongst the middle is Killing Ground. The end sits somewhere halfway: it isn’t dark, but the conclusion for the heroes is left on a bittersweet note. They’re not entirely filled with hope. Rather, they’ve learned things about themselves, some of which isn’t exactly positive. When the film finishes there are tough questions left to be answered. The heroic characters are safe from the danger of villains, though they remain in the line of fire of their own criticism for how they chose to act in the face of that danger.
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The reality of Killing Ground is perhaps why it feels so intense, and surely one of the reasons it succeeds in touching a nerve with its horror. All the characters involved go through a journey, they are left irreparably changed by their experiences throughout the plot, by its consequences and revelations. Choices are made with which the characters must live, or else their lives will never be the same. Instead of going for cheap, easy scares, Power aims for the heart and digs in deep with an 88-minute film fuelled by an oppressive psychological horror with glimpses of real human monstrosity.
A powerful horror-thriller, whether it goes for the physical nastiness, is built on a director’s ability to tell the story with interest. Power’s film is steadily paced, so much so the entire thing turns on a dime becoming utterly horrifying with a single shot of Sam walking a wooded trail, a blurred, unexpected figure in the background. He doesn’t need to resort to a jump scare, blood flicking from a machete as it hacks its victim. With one shot he provides more frights than some other directors can offer with an entire film.
Killing Ground slow burns the nerves to gristle. It’s a relentlessly suffocating piece of work that’s impressive for a feature film debut. From the opening, subtle credits sequence of shots lingering on desolate wilderness and an abandoned campsite, there’s an immediate sense of dread that never once lets up for a second. Writer-director Damien Power turned what in other hands would’ve been a tired rehash of tropes into something with lasting, unsettling power, one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Deliverance, Southern Comfort, the newer Eden Lake, and other now classic survival movies.

You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

RINGS: The Sequel I Never Knew I Wanted

Rings. 2017. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, & David Loucka.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, & Laura Wiggins.
Macari-Edelstein/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation/Vertigo Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2
posterDisclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to go in fresh, and I suggest you do, then DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! For thou will be spoiled.

To start, I’ve always loved both the original Ringu from Hideo Nakata and also Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring. They’re equally disturbing and eerie, in their own rights. I was a lot less impressed with Nakata doing the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two, which I’d hoped would’ve been better. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed bits. Overall I love the mythology of the original story, how the remake handled it in his own way, and of course the first film from Nakata with its truly ghostly feeling. They’re each the type of horror that works its way under your skin until it’s inside you. Remember that first hideous, dead face in the closet in Verbinski’s film? I don’t even have to watch it again to picture it in my mind.
So, once Rings was announced, I actually – honestly – did not give a shit. Total honesty. A few days ago while I had the day to myself, I wandered into Cineplex and bought a ticket. Again, full disclosure: I wanted to see Split (which I will soon). Seeing as how there wasn’t a showtime soon enough for me, Rings got my money.
Although there are a few things I didn’t like – namely the last couple minutes with its reveal, and some issues I had concerning the time frame of certain events – there were a ton of other things I enjoyed, a hell of a lot. Never expected it, either. And maybe that helped. No matter what it was, part of the credit is certainly F. Javier Gutiérrez’s directing. Plus I was impressed by the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, and David Loucka, who managed to deliver a screenplay that, while faulty in spots, felt imaginative, Gothic, and paid tribute to the original story in a fresh way.
rings1At first I felt like the opening was cheesy, as it’s the same plane scene we saw in promos recently. Then, as I sat in the theatre, it felt much more dreadful. Really pulse pounding, stressful stuff. Worked great on the big screen. This is an example of the writers bringing Samara (Bonnie Morgan) onto (and in through) the screen in intriguing ways. Later, perhaps my favourite appearance of Samara through a television screen happens as Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) hides in a bathroom – the victim tears a TV from the wall to try stopping the inevitable, and then Samara emerges as the screen lies flat on the floor, pushing her way out into the world (see: picture below). The opener and this scene alone gave us enough new, exciting appearances by the girl at the heart of the story that I feel Estes, Goldsman, and Loucka deserve a pat on the back. They could’ve focused totally on the story itself, the mythology, and left Samara’s television high jinks by the wayside, unoriginal, stale. They chose to try covering it all.
Brings me to another part of Rings I loved: the mythology opens up. The story takes us into a whole new era, literally. We bridge the gap between VHS and MPEG-4; the first interesting plot point. Johnny Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel. He ends up buying a VCR from a sale, and it winds up containing a stuck tape – you know which one! From there, this leads him into an existential search for answers after discovering, as Naomi Watts and others before him, that to survive you must make a copy of the tape, and the cycle continues. He begins a sort of secretive research project involving people watching the tape, then another person hours later watching the copy (a ‘tail’ as Gabriel calls it). Amazing setup for another chapter in The Ring‘s mythology.
rings2That’s not all, though. A man named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio) turns up later, and the town he lives in played a significant part in the life of Samara. It also holds the key to where she came from, before poor Brian Cox and his wife had their lives – and horses – destroyed by the little girl. This is where the Gothic feel of the story comes into play. This calls us back to that feeling Verbinski tapped into with The Ring, where the country-type settings return and the Gothic sense of secrets brimming under the surface of the town come alive once more. I won’t go on and spoil the twist they have in store, because I didn’t actually expect it, though maybe I should have according to some other, more snooty reviewers. Apart from the twist, there’s such a palpably eerie feeling that hovers like a fog over the last third of the film when Julia makes it to the little town where they discovered Samara’s bones are supposedly buried. This Gothic portion is another beautifully circular piece of the puzzle, as everything in the mythology of Samara seems to circle back in on itself.
I’ve also got to commend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Not that I have anything to compare this performance with, never having seen her act before, but she does good work here. Personally I love Naomi Watts, but Lutz does a far better job giving her character Julia depth, as opposed to a relatively flat performance from Watts in her role as Rachael (over two films no less). This girl Julia gets sucked into the world of the tape and Samara in whirlwind, in a much different situation than Rachael. Lutz’s is the best performance by far, a mixture of apprehension, fear, curiosity. This isn’t one of those run and scream roles, much more than that. And this young actress is someone I hope to see again soon.
RINGSDefinitely not for everyone, Rings will probably only appeal, or mostly, to die hard fans of the first remake. It honestly may not even appeal to Ringu fans, though you never can tell. Despite any of that I feel that Gutiérrez (who did a fantastic film just under a decade ago called Before the Fall) did interesting things as director, and he crafted the compelling new story into a moody, Gothic piece.
Sure, if you watched only the initial half of the film you might feel there isn’t much for this sequel to stand on. There are a couple intriguing things going for it. The real fun doesn’t start until a little ways in, when the mythology not only creeps into the contemporary world of technology but also goes back to the original and expands further. And even though I actually did not like the last few minutes when we’re revealed something that could’ve been suspected earlier, I do dig the very contemporary take on social media that’s offered in those final moments (you’ll understand more if you’ve actually seen the film).
So I’d recommend any non-jaded horror fans who are willing to stop being so judgemental constantly and ready to have fun, plus fans of The Ring and particularly its Gothic-ness, check out Rings. Have some fun. I know I did. I’m not ready for another sequel or anything, I’m just glad Gutiérrez injected life into a sequel I never asked for or knew I wanted.