The Ring Two

The Ring mythology, at this point, is almost as dense as The Ring of the Nibelung or that other famous work about a ring. It all started with a novel by Kôji Suzuki, and as a reviewer on the Internet Movie Database puts it, “There are many different films, television series, books, comic books, etc., based on the ‘Ring Universe,’ and it’s very complicated trying to sort them out.” It’s just as complicated to work out the lineage of The Ring Two. It’s a sequel to the 2002 American remake of the original 1998 Japanese Ringu, and it follows more or less the same plot as Ringu‘s 1999 sequel. Furthermore, the director of Ringu and Ringu 2, Hideo Nakata, has been recruited by DreamWorks to helm The Ring Two. Got all that?

Not that it matters much. The appeal of The Ring to American teenagers (its biggest audience) was its urban-legend premise — the idea that a spooky videotape passed from kid to kid could kill you within seven days of watching it. In The Ring Two, the malevolent little-girl spirit Samara returns, but this time she isn’t content to spread the word about the way her mother murdered her. No, this time she wants a new mommy. So she settles on Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), who thought she’d laid Samara’s soul to rest in the first film. Rachel has moved far away from Seattle, finding work as a copy editor at another newspaper (which affects the plot so little that she might as well have a job at D’Angelo’s). Her son Aidan (David Dorfman, as eerily waxlike as before) starts running a lower-than-normal temperature. Strange watery things happen. Samara, it becomes clear, wants to inhabit Aidan’s body.

If Aidan suddenly took up an interest in the Powerpuff Girls, the movie would be a tad more fun. As it is, Aidan has such a ghostly flat affect to begin with that the only noticeable change is that he starts calling Rachel “Mommy” instead of “Rachel.” Aside from a borderline ludicrous sequence in which Rachel and Aidan, driving on a back road, are assaulted by a group of irate deer — a nod to the maddened horse in The Ring, I guess — there’s very little fun to go around in The Ring Two, and scarcely any suspense or terror. The movie discards its urban-legend frisson and becomes about the tribulations of single mothers — Rachel, who at one point seems ready to drown Aidan just to force Samara out, and also a madwoman named Evelyn (Sissy Spacek in a walk-through), who, it’s revealed here, is Samara’s true birth mother and tried to drown her as a tot.

“Fear comes full circle,” promise the ads for The Ring Two, and we could indeed have had a cumulative horror classic if the promise were real — if the legacy of child-murder repeated itself, Jack Torrance-like, in Rachel. I can envision a Ring Two in which the real victim of possession is Rachel, who is tricked by evil Samara into thinking her son is corrupted by the ghost, and goes insane and actually drowns the boy — or is caught attempting to, like Evelyn, and gets locked away for life. That would give the movie a point, and a horrific punch, that it doesn’t have.

Instead, The Ring Two becomes banal and literal, with Rachel getting sucked into the videotape’s reality, where she goes down that old well again and sloshes around in that filthy water (Naomi Watts, please fire your agent) and confronts Samara one last time. If we’re lucky. Forgive the pun, but maybe Hideo Nakata has gone back to this well one too many times. His work here is utterly uninspired, with no true scares to speak of except for two moments when a victim’s fear-disfigured corpse turns up (and even that was done better in The Ring). I can’t imagine anyone being freaked out by The Ring Two the way even impressionable teens were spooked by The Ring. And can we have a moratorium on girl ghosts with long black hair covering their faces? It worked fine seven years ago, but now you just wonder why they don’t trip over something.

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