The Ring Two
directed by Hideo Nakata
(Dreamworks, 2005)

Producing a successful sequel to such a truly new and unusual (not to mention highly successful) film as The Ring is a daunting task. You can't just tell the same story over again, yet any moves in a new direction are apt to be decried by loyal fans of the original. I usually try to review a film immediately after watching it, but in the case of The Ring Two, I have allowed several days to go by -- and thankfully so, because my appreciation for this film has grown over that time.

Certainly, this film is not as good as the original -- how could it be? After all, we've already seen Samara in all of her glory, and we've even spent some time in the well. The shock value of The Ring Two just can't compare with that of the original. Believability also rears its ugly head here, as Samara's unreal powers have grown and, in a real sense, taken flight in the sequel. This is no longer about people watching the tape and dying seven days later; remember, Rachel freed Samara from the well at the end of the first movie. She's more dangerous than ever, and her desires have changed -- she wants more than vengeance now.

I think it was quite a coup to get Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu and Ringu 2, to direct here, but I think the vision he brings to this film also explains part of the disconnect we've seen with some fans of The Ring. The Japanese approach to horror is quite different from our own. American audiences are used to being shown things, oftentimes explicitly, while Japanese horror is much more subtle, symbolic and spiritual. It is this cultural divide, I believe, that leads some Ring fans to label this film a poor sequel. Adapting Japanese horror for an American audience is quite a challenge -- just look at The Grudge, a film that even I felt just didn't work. In The Ring, all of the symbolic clues, especially those in the videotape, basically led to something -- namely, Samara's story and the location of her body. The Ring Two does not lay out such a clear pathway for the hero or viewer; the symbology is much deeper and abstract this time around. It's not that this causes confusion on the part of the viewer; it's just that much of the story plays out on a level that many viewers are not culturally suited to experience. That's why I would recommend watching all of the bonus features on this DVD -- they certainly helped hone my appreciation for what I had just seen.

As for the story, you have Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorman) leaving Seattle and moving to Astoria, Oregon, shortly after the events of the first movie played out (it's supposedly six months later, but Nakata says two years in the production notes). Rachel is still suffering somewhat from a sense of guilt (over passing the tape on to other innocents in order to save her son), but she and Aidan are both trying to start their lives anew and forget about Samara.

That's all well and good, but Samara has not forgotten about them. That's obvious after a local youth dies a horrible death under mysterious circumstances -- and Rachel is quickly left with no doubt whatsoever that Samara has found them. We quickly move beyond the cursed videotape, however, as Samara works to exploit her unique connection to Aidan. This time around, Rachel cannot save her son through anything approaching conventional means, nor can she rely on the help of anyone else, now including her son. Increasingly desperate, she decides to trace Samara's history before her adoption by the Morgans, eventually finding and speaking to the girl's actual birth mother (Sissy Spacek in quite a memorable cameo). It looks like all the drama is leading up to a fairly predictable ending -- but just remember that a film is never over until it's over.

Watts basically carries this movie on her back, as she is the filter through which we view everything that happens. Up until now, I never really appreciated Watts as an actress, but I do now. Dorman is another story for me, though. While he is able to deliver some very effective scenes, at times I can't help but think he attended the Hayden Christensen school of acting. Sure, he's a little creepy, but now it's in a televangelistic way -- to me, he looks like a combination of Jim Bakker and a young Macaulay Culkin. I love Samara, though; thankfully, Nakata chose not to go the CGI route with her at all (even still, she's not half as creepy as her original Japanese counterpart), which would have made a mockery of the whole creep factor. CGI is used, unfortunately, on the deer that dominate one memorable scene. I understand how real deer could not be used, but this particular scene, after starting out very effectively indeed, is ultimately ruined by the ridiculous obviousness of the CGI animation.

Unlike The Ring, The Ring Two is packed with special features (although we still don't get a commentary, unfortunately). Easily the best of the bunch is a short film called "Rings," which is sort of a prequel to The Ring Two. I really liked the idea played with over these 15-20 minutes -- that of an underground network of teens who have watched the videotape, recorded their increasingly disturbing experiences for as long as they could stand it and then passed it on to a fellow newbie before their seven days were up. Along with this impressive short film, you get a series of excellent making-of featurettes featuring a surprisingly lengthy set of production notes, information on the cast and crew, and some 19 minutes of deleted scenes. Altogether, it's an impressive package for a truly excellent and, to some degree, misunderstood motion picture.

by Daniel Jolley
16 September 2006

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