It’s been quite an adventure over the last two years for Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez. After co-producing the 2015 horror film Demonic with filmmaker James Wan (Insidious), and doing some pre-production work on the upcoming reboot of the 1994 fantasy action film The Crow, Gutiérrez was offered the chance to helm his own project for the first time since releasing his acclaimed 2008 sci-fi disaster indie Before the Fall (AKA 3 Días).
Picking up where directors Gore Verbinski and Hideo Nakata left off with The Ring and The Ring Two respectively, Gutiérrez developed Rings, the third installment of the supernatural horror series that tells the story of a cursed videotape that kills viewers seven days after it is seen. Shot in 2015, Rings went through a handful of different release dates, but is finally being released nationwide Feb. 3.
During our interview with Gutiérrez this week, we talked about what it’s like taking over a film series with a following, why he thinks the villain in this urban legend is memorable and why it took two years for Rings to see the light of day.
On coming in as a new director to an established horror series
Obviously, you feel the pressure of working on a property that has been around for some years and has a huge fan base. Before I got involved in Rings, I was involved in making another movie, [the reboot of] The Crow. It was the same kind of situation. So, coming from The Crow, it felt very natural for me. I learned to find a middle ground between the pressure and having the creativity and confidence you need as a producer to please everybody. I felt Rings, was going to be a challenge, but not too different from The Crow. I felt it was an exciting idea.
On the main idea behind the horror series and why it is particularly terrifying to audiences
It’s this idea of playing with mortality—this idea that if you watch [the tape] you die in seven days. There is a human element to that—the curiosity we have. If you watch it, you may die, but you go ahead and watch it anyway. It’s a pretty cool, dark concept.
On what makes Samara, the antagonist of the Rings series, an interesting villain
She has a lot of things in common with classic monsters like Frankenstein or Dracula. They have this human element that you relate to. [These type of villains] carry drama. They’re not monsters that just show up and do horrible things. Samara has a power she cannot control. You can understand why she comes back so strong and so hungry for revenge. You may think you can relate to her and might be able to get her forgiveness, but you won’t. She hates everybody because she never got love from anybody.
On any old Spanish folklore legends he remembers growing up
There were some stories that I heard when I was a kid, but I don’t really remember them. There was one about a women in a village who killed her daughter, but unconsciously I think I wanted to delete it from my head. There are a lot of stories like that in which people feel culturally attached and that they grow up with, I just can’t remember a specific one right now. In Spain, we have a Catholic background, too, that plays with religion and elements like the Bible and demons and the Devil.
On the film’s release date changing four times over the last two years
We shot the movie in 2015 and tried to make the [release] date Halloween 2015. But Rings has a complex idea of a “movie-within-a-movie,” so we didn’t finish [Rings] because we were not shooting this other movie at the same time. So, by the end of 2015, we had a very rough cut, but we still didn’t have the “video-within-a-video” shot. We decided to stop and make that part of the movie in spring 2016. Since we had some extra time and didn’t have the pressure to make a Halloween release date anymore, we decided to put two new sequences together.
But in the spring, unfortunately, it was too complicated to put the cast back together and we were having more trouble with the “video-within-a-video” than we expected. So, we shot it in summer 2016 when we had all the cast together again. We thought we were going to make a Halloween 2016 release, but because of all the work we had done, we were very on edge and marketing needed a little more time and wanted to have a proper campaign for it. We didn’t want to rush anything.
On a frightening phone call he made during production
Two weeks after I got the deal [to direct] Rings, I was calling my family in Spain to say hi. I called them and someone picked up the phone and it was the voice of a little girl. It was very spooky. She was speaking English. She was like four or five years old. She said, “Hello.” I checked to see if I had dialed the wrong number, but I had called home. It was the right number. I started freaking out. So, I started talking with the girl. I said, “Who are you?” Then the little girl started to laugh and started singing me “Happy Birthday.” I hung up the phone and double checked the number again. It was the right number. So, I dialed it again and my family picked up the phone in Spain. It was the scariest moment I went through in this movie. I’m just glad it wasn’t Samara and she didn’t say, “Seven days.”
Rings hits theaters nationwide on February 3, 2017.