Holt and Julia are in love. Love is warm. Love is beautiful. Love is sensual. Holt and Julia are all those things.
But even for teens hopelessly caught up in cuddly-wuddly mode, life sometimes gets in the way. In this case, it’s when Holt has to head off to college while Julia stays home and deals with some family responsibilities. Boo, responsibility. Doesn’t that sort of life stuff just make you want to scream? It sure makes Julia want to.
What the completely adorable Julia and Holt don’t realize quite yet is that there’s something much worse to scream about lurking out there in the world. Holt finds out about it pretty quickly, though, after some buddies at school drag him into a biology professor’s special study group.
That super-secret program can earn a student some extra points. Unfortunately, it revolves around this video that features a collection of short, weird images—a video that actually summons a slime-covered dead girl to murder you if you don’t copy it and then get someone else to watch it after you. It’s sorta like a death-focused pyramid scheme or chain letter. Best to just keep it moving.
Why is this college professor pulling his students into this potentially deadly insanity? Well, that’s not important at the moment. What is important is that Holt is mixed up in all this creepy stuff now. Boo, creepy stuff.
So now Julia needs to fly into action.
And just what can pretty Julia do in the face of all that freaky-dead-girl-crawling-out-of-a-video-screen horror?
Well, she can scream.
There is no question that Julia is willing to do anything for the guy she loves. Even after seeing the horror of a murderous ghost and understanding the risks involved, she intentionally watches a video to remove the curse from Holt’s shoulders. Then Holt chooses to step up. And the two struggle to solve the mystery behind the tape and save each other.
The spiritual world of Rings encompasses a lot of inexplicable, mystical happenings that don’t really make sense or follow any sort of logic. But they still comprise the dark and twisted spiritual reality in which the film’s characters struggle.
There is a marauding, malevolent force at the heart of things here that we see take the form of a slime-covered young girl who crawls magically out of a TV screen. We’re told that watching that “special” video results in a deadly curse culminating in the ghost girl’s unwanted arrival seven days later for those who haven’t coaxed some other poor chump into watching the clip.
Julia sees several visions that involve ghost-like characters and animals. One such vision transports her to the past, where she spots clues that suggest a young woman was held captive and abused by a priest. That priest, in turn, reports having had supernatural visions that drove him to his monstrous deeds. As the priest beats someone, he calls out to the Holy Spirit and “the Lord who saved you from your sin.” The wicked priest suggests that a young girl’s corpse embodies a “curse of God.” We also see a number of crosses in and around scenes of the priest’s abuses. The camera spots a statuette of Mary in someone’s hotel room.
Holt explains that his biology professor, Gabriel, created his experiments with the Ring video to “prove the existence of a soul and of life after death.” Gabriel reports that “our soul is eternal, and when our body dies it seeks out a new home.” A woman is, not surprisingly, possessed by an evil spirit.
We see Holt and Julia in bed together on a couple of occasions. He’s wearing boxers and she’s shown in a skimpy camisole and underwear. It’s clear that these unmarried teens are having sex, though we don’t actually see it. They kiss repeatedly, in and out of bed. In fact, when Julia and Holt separate as he leaves for college, Julia talks of missing his smell. So he strips off his T-shirt and gives it to her.
Julia has a dream encounter with Holt that starts with him kissing and licking her neck passionately and intensifies as he moves down her body, and a number of other mysterious hands join in the caressing action before she wakes with a start.
A young woman named Skye wears a very low-cut top.
Most of the film’s most visceral violence is kept just outside our view, but there are still lots of disturbing images to be seen. Several deaths involve victim’s souls or life force being supernaturally sucked out of them, leaving behind desiccated corpses with grotesquely distorted features. Unseen spiritual forces leave burns and bruised imprints on both Julia’s and Holt’s bodies. And intense jump scenes abound, of course.
One person has a nasty car crash. We see the victim, covered in blood and strapped upside down in a car filling with water. He struggles to speak before being electrocuted by a falling light pole. A young girl is smothered by a plastic bag and thrown into a well. We’re told that she struggled to survive for seven days before finally drowning.
A large man throws both Julia and Holt around. He batters them with his fists, strangles Julia with a strip of cloth and beats them both with a cane. We later see the bruised, bloodied effects of his assault.
Julia drives a nail through her finger. She also finds a hidden cell where a woman was raped and kept prisoner throughout her subsequent pregnancy. A man falls down a staircase and slams his head on the floor below. People sport nose bleeds just before being attacked. We see the occupants of a plane’s cabin tumbling about and screaming immediately prior to a plane crash. Someone is pulled out of the way of a speeding truck.
A Ring video we see includes quick and disturbing images of dead and decaying animals, a person committing suicide by jumping off a cliff and what looks to be an aborted baby in a small box.
One s-word and one use each of the words “b–ch” and “a–.” Jesus’ name is misused once, as well.
Gabriel smokes a marijuana joint and drinks a glass of hard liquor. When dismissing his college class he also tells his students to “go get drunk,” to their cheering applause. The camera catches sight of a prescription bottle and some scattered pills on Holt’s nightstand.
Rings, the latest Americanized and cannibalized sequel to 1998’s original Japanese horror flick Ringu, is the equivalent of a fever dream. We’ve all had one of those, right? That miserable tossing and turning ordeal where your body is wrestling with illness and your mind just grinds away in a repeating loop of torment.
In this cinematic case, it’s an utterly superfluous sequel grinding away at a slightly tweaked version of the same Ringu story that’s been creeping out of the well for almost two decades now. We see the same flashing images of death and decay, the same rotting corpses, the same dark and twisted spirituality that we’ve already seen repeated time and again. Oh, and the same dark-haired ghost girl crawling about creepily in search of her next victim, of course.
Just like your typical sickness-induced nightmare, it’s only when you wake up—or in this case, when the credits roll and the theater lights begin to glow—that you realize that all your mental agony, your painful groping for some resolution, was really completely nonsensical.
So, in an effort to save you from that time-gobbling, febrile plight, I’m going to break all the rules and whisper this foul flick’s biggest secret, its most hush-hush update. Are you ready?
People die horribly after watching copied video files instead of copied VHS tapes.
Don’t you feel less feverish already?
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.