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Dustin Putman

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The Ring Two (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Hideo Nakata
Cast: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Perkins, Emily VanCamp, Ryan Merriman, Sissy Spacek, Gary Cole, Kelly Overton, James Lesure, Daveigh Chase, Kelly Stables
2005 – 111 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence/terror, disturbing images, thematic elements, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 16, 2005.

At first glance, Hideo Nakata, the Japanese filmmaker behind 1998's original "Ringu" and 1999's still-unreleased-in-the-U.S. "Ringu 2," would seem an ideal candidate to helm the American sequel to 2002's perfectly chilling "The Ring." Unfortunately, signs of his Eastern background is nowhere to be found in "The Ring Two," an empty creepy-crawly horror picture that is both a pale imitation of the superior remake and a continuation that foolishly discounts that previous film's rules.

Set shortly after the disturbing events of "The Ring," newspaper reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and son Aidan (David Dorfman) have moved from the hustle and bustle of Seattle to the assumably quieter surroundings of Astoria, Oregon. Their intention is to make a fresh start of things, but no sooner have they unpacked at their new house when the grisly corpse of 17-year-old Jake (Ryan Merriman) is found. Hot on the trail, Rachel discovers that Jake had watched the deadly videotape a week earlier. She promptly snatches the VHS recording and burns it, relieved that the nightmare is over for good. But not so fast. With her means of claiming victims suddenly cut short, ghostly child Samara (Daveigh Chase) turns to the body of Aidan as her sole way of crossing over once more into the real world.

The screenplay for "The Ring Two," like its predecessor, has been penned by Ehren Kruger (2000's "Scream 3"). This time, however, the results seem slovenly thrown together and just a little condescending to those fans—myself included—of the first film. The unsettling nature of the Japanese original and its remake was in its crafty use of a simple recording on a videotape as the source for its murderous mayhem. Furthermore, the solution to the mystery at movie's end—the doomed party could only be saved by making a copy of the tape—is promptly forgotten about. Here, Samara can attack and kill anyone at will, even those who have never even heard about the cursed tape, let alone watched it. While screenwriter Ehren Kruger attempts to explain himself out of this plot hole by introducing a possession scenario, he has not done a tight job in successfully achieving this. Instead, his efforts come off as hokey, feeling the need to overexplain some key story points—the name, Rachel, has to be uttered the most times as a cinematic character's name since Carol Anne in "Poltergeist III"—while shortchanging the dark past of Samara and her natural supernatural abilities.

Unlike in "The Ring" and 2004's also-better "The Grudge," the Asian-influenced background and studied suspense of "The Ring Two" is mostly missing-in-action, replaced by predictable slasher flick theatrics. "The Ring" was blessed with a suffocating level of bleak, beautiful atmosphere, sweeping audiences up in Rachel's deliberate and intoxicating investigation into the history of the tape even as the countdown to her own impending death grew nearer. The cinematography here, by Gabriel Beristain (2004's "Blade: Trinity"), is slick and luscious in its own right, particularly during a soaring overhead shot of a car disappearing into the depths of an overwhelming patch of forest. What it lacks is a sense of insurmountable dread. "The Ring Two" much prefers cutting to the chase, more reliant on artful, but obvious, CGI effects than in telling a cogent story.

What cannot be denied are a handful of effective jump scares and a couple of expertly tense sequences. The opening section, in which Jake attempts to get unsuspecting high school classmate Emily (a very good Emily VanCamp) to watch the tape as a way of saving himself from an approaching doomsday, springs things off to a promising start. Another scene in which Rachel and Aidan are attacked in their car by a gang of possessed deer is easily the film's spookiest highlight, even as it clearly is a redux of the original's famous horse-on-the-ferry moment.

Sadly, these standout junctures do not last. The dialogue is on the dopey side, with returning cast member Naomi Watts (2004's "We Don't Live Here Anymore") doing her best while fulfilling her contracted sequel obligations, even as she is forced to spout some real clangers. David Dorfman (2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") is also back as son Aidan, handling his broadened role with impressiveness. A nice touch late in the film has his voiced being subtly mixed with that of Daveigh Chase's (2001's "Donnie Darko") evil Samara. As friendly journalist coworker Max, Simon Baker (2000's "Red Planet") basically has stepped in as the poor man's Martin Henderson, who was Watts' leading man in the original. Also making glorified cameos are Elizabeth Perkins (2001's "Cats & Dogs"), as suspicious psychiatrist Dr. Emma Temple, and Sissy Spacek (2004's "A Home at the End of the World"), as an important figure from Samara's past.

"The Ring Two" grabs the viewer's attention by default—it moves fast and isn't without its freakish images—but a sinking feeling gradually puts a pall over the fun as it becomes obvious the film was rushed into production without much thought or faithfulness into the first picture's lore. By the time the climactic ending set in a well arrives, "The Ring Two" has obliterated into nonsense. Or, should I say, sunk beneath the depths of Samara's aforementioned watery grave—and that's not even making mention of the various plot strands involving unsolved deaths and suspected child abuse left clumsily hanging with the end credits. Plain and simple, "The Ring Two" doesn't play fair.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman