by Jeff Meyers
You would think that with the rise of DVD, TIVO and Bitorrent, a horror flick about haunted videotapes would be a tough sell to a teenage audience. But if the shrieks and squirms at the screening of The Ring Two are any indication, the return of waterlogged Samara and her art-school video project will be good for at least another $70 million at the box office.
Gore Verbinski’s The Ring did a pretty good job creeping us out with an oppressive atmosphere of dread, a few well-placed scares and a decent mystery. He also brought the story to a satisfactory conclusion. With its huge ticket sales, however, it was inevitable that Dreamworks would demand a sequel. After all, Ringu, the original Japanese version, spawned several follow-ups along with a prequel. Who better then to take the helm than the series’ original director, Hideo Nakato.
The story picks up six months after the first film left off. Ace reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (the excellent David Dorfman) live in a small town on the Oregon coast. Life is uncomfortably quiet, but the two of them are determined to settle in and move on. It isn’t long, of course, before the undead girl with long black hair catches up with them.
During the film’s opening scene, a new wrinkle to the curse is revealed: It’s not enough to simply copy the killer videotape, as was the case in The Ring; you have to make sure someone actually watches it. It’s an interesting twist but begs the question: Who did Rachel get to watch Aidan’s copy? Imbued with new and improved (albeit seemingly arbitrary) powers, Samara slowly possesses Aidan, intending to make Rachel her new mommy.
When an attempt to exorcise Samara fails, Child Protection Services steps in and Watts is separated from her haunted little boy. This forces her to dig deeper into the dead girl’s origins, leading her on an expedition that includes a surprise cameo by Sissy Spacek.
Not much stands in the way of evil Samara, a typical ghost who is able to control just about anything, such as televisions, lights and even the minds of meddlesome do-gooders. And that’s the film’s biggest problem. The plot lacks the gruesome sense of order that made the first film so haunting, most notably the seven-day waiting period that was an inevitable countdown to death. Without the race against the clock to survive, Ring Two’s script is like the bastard child of Nightmare on Elm Street and The Omen (and some parts of Videodrome).
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger teases viewers with foreshadowing; he touches on Rachel’s history of depression and unsettling evocations of mothers drowning their children, but ultimately this leads nowhere. A better writer or filmmaker could have diverged for a while, making some interesting observations about maternal instincts and madness, but that isn’t really the point here. What audiences are looking for is a good scare.
Though Nakata avoids the tinted, otherworldly cinematography favored by Verbinski, he does manage to orchestrate some genuinely creepy scenes and even a few jump-out-of-your-seat moments: Samara’s contortive climb up the well, an unsettling attack by crazed deer and bathwater that defies gravity are the sort of disturbing images pulled from nightmares. They may not add up to a good movie, but if you’re in the right mood, they provide enough thrills to be worth your eight bucks.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.