Film: “Rings”; Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez; Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe and Vincent DOnofrio; Rating ***
A nervous-looking man shares his fears with a co-passenger as a plane is about to take off. No, it’s not fear of flying. It’s fear of dying. He has watched a cursed video cassette which predicts death for the viewer within seven days.
And now those seven days are done. What happens next is an ample measure of how cleverly this film controls its quotient of terror without toppling over into the abyss of over-statement.
“Rings” is one of those scarce terror travels that actually gets you frightened with jolting visuals of satanic awakening shot in colours of stark terror.
For someone like me who doesn’t take on-screen horror seriously, there were some seriously terrifying moments in the film, as Julia (played by the spirited Matilda Lutz in her first starring role) embarks on a journey to save her boyfriend (Alex Roe) from a grand diabolical plan.
Please note how much the basic idea of the woman giving up her life in place of her man borrows from Hindu mythology. Remember Savitri who saved her husband from death’
“Rings” follows that archaic course with crisp cutting vigour. There is a primitive quaintness to the chilling proceedings in the way the drama unfolds, even in the plot’s primary twists, a lot of the terror is generated from outdated notions of human anxiety.
The wellspring of terror is a videotape, a format of film viewing that went obsolete two decades ago. And really, the whole idea of a woman’s spirit roaming restlessly after a brutal death is as old as Dracula’s fangs.
And yet “Rings” has fangs and claws. It grips you from the word go and keeps you interested even as the heroine does the most brainless things that haunted women do in horror films, like entering a tomb in a graveyard on all fours. We all know the tomb will close in on her to play on one of the most primeval human anxieties: claustrophobia. We know. She knows. And yet we fall for it.
For the climax, Julia rushes where angels fear to tread, straight into the main villain’s home. What follows is a game of cat and mouse played out in films as far-reaching as Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” (1967) and Priyadarshan’s Malayalam film “Oppam” (2016).
This may not be your idea of a Valentine’s day love story. But “Rings” tells you why it’s important for couples to stand by one another under the most trying of circumstances. Also, why not to watch video tapes that are sent anonymously.
“First you watch it then you die”, is the warning served to potential watchers of the fatal videotape. It’s okay to watch this film, though.
By Subhash K. Jha