Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, 2005, 16 minutes. Starring Ryan Merriman, Alex Breckenridge, Josh Wise, Kelly Stables, and Emily VanCamp.
Let's get this straight: like the seemingly endless Ju-on / Grudge series, the Ring franchise is starting to get out of hand in the naming stakes. With all the additions of definite articles, rogue "u"s and the like, if you pick up a Ring series DVD without concentrating really hard, you'll be very, very lucky if it's actually the one you wanted to watch in the first place.
Anyway, Rings is a kind of mini-sequel, a 16 and a half minute short to bridge the gap between (deep breath) The Ring and The Ring Two, the US remake and its sequel. You can only get it on the Special Edition DVD of The Ring, and it was never released theatrically.
Why, then, is Snowblood Apple giving a short movie, and a DVD extra at that, as much prominence as the other releases in the series? Well, firstly for the sake of completeness. Secondly, it harks back to some of the tenets of the Japanese originals. Thirdly, until such point as The Ring Two arrives at Apple Towers , it's the only new Ringfix we're going to get. And finally, and whisper this, it's actually quite good.
It's clearly a little while after the events of The Ring. It might be some point in 2003 (a date mentioned in the movie) or 2004, but basically, post The Ring and pre The Ring Two. Samara's video has propagated still further, developing into a kind of cult amongst older teenagers and early twenty-somethings. Having formed a buddy system, the game is to watch the video, and hold out against the ensuing madness as long as you can before showing the video to your buddy, who then does much the same to someone else. Everything, though, has to be documented, with devotees posting their experiences to the Rings website (a "fake" version of which is still up at http://www.she-is-here.com/, but which might not be by the time you read this). It's like there's a cult of Samara – followers know that on day seven you die, although few, if any, seem to know of anyone who's gone that far. Survivors, it's hinted, even get a tattoo of a ring (symbolising the ring of light surrounding the lid over the well) on their forearms.
It's into this world that our hero, high-school student Jake is inducted at a party at the local college. He's clearly got the hots for a girl called Vanessa so goes along with the ploy, rescuing her from death and being buddied himself by a guy with the rather daft name of Timmy, which I thought only dogs were called nowadays. Anyway, Jake doesn't fully understand what he's been shown, but an insistent guy called Eddie demands he documents what happens to him over the following week on his video camera, and when he can't take it any more, he's to show the tape to Timmy. Vanessa implores him to "follow it all the way". Within 24 hours he's seeing ladders that aren't there, picking flies from video screens... basically the same things that happened to Rachel in The Ring.
As time develops, Jake discovers the Rings website and starts to look at the material people have uploaded there. If anything, it freaks him out yet further, especially as he starts to see visions of Samara in car windows, doorways, by walls, basically following him the further down the line he gets. On day four he sees water dripping down a corridor sideways, accumulating in a puddle stuck vertically on the wall about six feet up. When he goes to investigate, guess who grabs him on the wrist, reaching up from her watery grave? The next morning he still has the (by now) tell-tale nensha marks, even though they seem to have moved four inches up his arm towards his elbow...
By this stage poor old Jake is vomiting electric millipedes (aside: what the hell happens to that millipede? Does it go and feast on some lettuce or maraud Godzilla-like through the town, terrifying small children and dogs?) and determined, now, at day six, to show the tape to little Timmy. Timmy on the other hand pretends to be none too keen, and shuts the door on Jake; only when we see inside the house do we realise that Vanessa is manipulating the whole situation, determined as she is to see a Day Seven at first hand. So who, now, is Jake going to show the video too, in his increasingly trippy world? Well, at the very least, we know he survives as he's listed as a cast member for The Ring Two. But how?
Despite its length, Rings is actually a very effective horror short. While there's theoretically little opportunity for building a Ring-style sense of dread, in practice by focussing purely on the action, and on one person's experiences in particular, the ever-present spectre of Samara underpins the piece to the extent that, despite you pretty much being able to predict what's going to happen, you're not entirely sure how it will.
Visually, Rings owes a huge debt to The Ring, which is only to be expected. Director Jonathan Liebesmann (who also shares the screenwriting credit with Ehren Kruger, responsible for penning both US movies) works within the framework that Gore Verbinski set up in the first feature, keeping the same, strange blue tone and using technically accomplished jumpcuts to keep the audience guessing. But, as the movie develops, and Jake's madness and desperation increase, the visuals become increasingly trippy (smearing, bleaching, blurring of images) and by Day Seven the movie looks like what you'd imagine The Ring looked like if you watched it having dosed up on a huge amount of LSD – no bad thing, actually.
As it's a DVD movie, the temptation is to go through parts of this film frame by frame, and if you do you do actually find nice little subtleties – the distorted face of a video diarist; rings appearing in the most innocent of situations; and, in a nice nod to Koji Suzuki's original novel, Samara appearing in reflective surfaces like car windows (think of Tomoko's two friends in the original movie). Equally, Jake's betrayal by Timmy and Vanessa has echoes of Kanae's betrayal by Okazaki in Ring 2.
That's not to say Rings is all about harking back to the past though. By introducing the characters of Jake and Emily, it does set the scene very soundly for The Ring Two, and develops the Samara storyline significantly. The idea of a cult of Samara, a kind of organised Russian roulette by videotape, is an intriguing one, and we can only hope this particular plotline is satisfactorily developed in subsequent movies.
Sadly, right at the end, Rings is significantly spoilt by a cheat of an ending. It's here that its weakness as, really, little more than an extended teaser for The Ring Two is clear for all to see and, as the final credits roll, you can't help but feel that it taints pretty much the entire piece. It's also criminal that it was included on a so-called "Collectors Edition" of The Ring DVD so that the fans, who bought the original when it first came out, will have to shell out another fifteen quid or so again for a brief making-of and this short. Really, the making-of should have been included on the original disc, and, in an ideal world, Rings released on a budget disc for about a fiver. But hey, that's Hollywood.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Shock Factor: 9/10 - some real scares here, and none of the cheesy filing-based ones from the first movie
Samara: still looking like a man
Sadako: still scarier than Samara
Invisible Ladders: don't try to do any window-cleaning with them
Bad taste in mouth: left by crap ending and Dreamworks punter-fleecing. Oh, and the electric millipede
*** Recommended ***
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005
You can find links to all the Ring cycle movies on the Ring Cycle main page.