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film review

Matilda Lutz, as Julia, reads lines as if she’s speaking English phonetically in Rings.Quantrell Colbert

Credit where credit's due: F. Javier Gutierrez's super-superfluous second sequel to Gore Verbinski's American remake of Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata's 1998 horror classic includes one of the more curious pieces of set dressing in recent memory. Who'd have thought a hunky, square-jawed, zero-dimensional college freshman named Holt (Alex Roe) would decorate his dorm with a poster for beloved nineties cult alt-rockers the Afghan Whigs? It ranks right up there with the poster announcing Meadow's unlikely affinity for Norwegian experimental black-metal band Ulver in an early season of The Sopranos.

As a low-key improbability, it stands alongside Rings' other nonsensical details: such as the fine-arts grad student who owns an enormous, wall-mounted plasma screen, or the bad-boy biology professor (Johnny Galecki) who assigns his students essays and whose on-campus lab looks like a low-rent cybergoth hangout from Hackers. All odd touches, sure. But they square with a film that is marked, by virtue of its very existence, by a kind of baffling incomprehensibility. Pretty much everything about Rings is incoherent. And the most incoherent thing of all is the film's arrival a decade and a half after Verbinski's original remake (if such a term even makes sense).

Popular television series such as Black Mirror – with its techno-paranoid, near-futurist fables about haunted online dating profiles and eerie apps – have renewed the public interest in technological horror stories. Here, Rings offers a modest (and modestly insightful) revision on the form, with Galecki's analog fetishist accidentally restarting the curse of Ring when he happens across the mysterious videotape lodged in a VCR he finds at a flea market.

"I prefer vintage," he purrs moronically, in an attempt to seduce a woman that, sadly, proves successful. Against trend-baiting headlines barking, "Analog is Back," Rings offers a stern rejoinder. Perhaps our broken, busted technologies, and all the useless old junk we fetishize, should be left in the past, anguishing like the ghosts of the long-since deceased.

After exposing himself to the tape, Galecki's prof quickly learns the "rules" of the curse detailed in the original film(s): He has seven days to make a copy and pass it off, or else a creepy little girl named Samara (contortionist Bonnie Morgan) will crawl through the TV (or computer, or iPhone) screen and scare him to death. And so, like the madman scholars of H.P. Lovecraft's imagined Miskatonic University before him, he exploits the seemingly vast resources of his no-name Spokane, Wash., university to study the curse. (That a lowly associate prof is afforded such leeway is yet another of the film's many eye-rolling improbabilities.)

When the above mentioned low-fi rock-jock Holt and his plucky gumshoe girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Lutz, who reads lines as if she's speaking English phonetically), become exposed to the tape, they team up with Galecki's possessed academic to break the spell.

The issue – apart from leaden performances, ludicrous plotting, hollow scripting and laughable jump-scares – is that anyone who has seen any entry in the expansive Ring franchise (10-plus films, between Japanese and American versions) knows very well the curse cannot be broken. The "ring" of the titles refers as much to the ghostly image of a sealed well that appears in the deadly videotape as to the cycle of violence that reproduces itself again and again, without – as these sequels can attest – any meaningful resolution.

The film happens upon another just-clever-enough idea in its examination of how this pattern itself replicates cycles of family violence and trauma. But again, that's already something heavily implied in both Nakata and Verbinski's films (where, spoiler alert, a stepmother is shown drowning her daughter in a well). Basing a whole film around this peripheral idea is like green-lighting a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel all about where Freddy Krueger's hat comes from.

Some ancestral curses are better off left alone. Like, pretty much all of them.