The Ring Two
Director : Hideo Nakata
Screenplay : Ehren Kruger
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Naomi Watts (Rachel Keller), Simon Baker (Max Rourke), David Dorfman (Aidan Keller), Elizabeth Perkins (Dr. Emma Temple), Gary Cole (Martin Savide), Sissy Spacek (Evelyn), Ryan Merriman (Jake), Emily VanCamp (Emily)
The Ring Two is a different and, I would argue, slightly better film that its predecessor, 2001's hit The Ring, although it probably won't please audiences the way the first film did because its scariness is less visceral and more emotional. It takes a while to get going, but once it cuts to the central idea -- a mother's fear of losing her child and a child's fear of being parentless -- The Ring Two gathers a surprising amount of emotional punch.
The Ring, which was a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror hit Ringu, was built on a flimsy-silly idea in which people who watched a mysterious videotape died seven days later. The idea worked because it had the tingly vibe of an urban legend, which are always just as silly as they are scary. But, screenwriter Ehren Kruger, in Americanizing the remake, force-fit the legend of the videotape into a complicated mystery-suspense thriller that required clumsy amounts of exposition in an ultimately failed attempt to explain everything the Japanese original had left vague. Much like the rash of Italian horror films of the '70s and '80s, best epitomized in work of Dario Argento, one of the strengths of modern J-horror is its ambiguity; it doesn't have to "make sense" to work.
The Ring Two, which was also written by Ehren Kruger, is clearly more comfortable with a certain level of logical grayness, which ultimately plays to the film's advantage. Once again, the protagonists are single-mom journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts, again projecting a realistic mix of strength and panic) and her young son, Aidan (David Dorfman). After their bad experiences with the haunted videotape in The Ring, Rachel and Aidan have moved to the small coastal town of Astoria, Oregon, where they hope to start over again. Unfortunately, the film misses a fantastic opportunity early on to ground the sequel in the guilt mother and son feel for having sacrificed others in other to save themselves (the only way to keep from dying after watching the tape is to show it to someone else, which sets up an endless cycle). The film doesn't quite ignore this facet of the story, but it is quickly glossed over and forgotten.
Unfortunately for Rachel and Aidan, the videotape surfaces (surprise, surprise) in Astoria. Rachel gets ahold of the tape and destroys it, but this only angers the vengeful ghost that haunts it, who we learned in the first film is an abused girl named Samara. There were some suggestions in the first film that Aidan had some kind of psychic link to Samara, which played there as a lame attempt to include a vaguely creepy child subtext that is apparently de rigeur for every psychological horror movie in the wake of The Sixth Sense (1999). That narrative thread is better used in The Ring Two, as the focus of the narrative turns on Samara's attempt to possess Aidan's body, thus giving her another chance at life.
In essence, then, The Ring Two is about two children -- Aidan and Samara -- competing for the same mother in Rachel. Samara's complicated and tormented backstory is given another angle with the inclusion of her supposed real mother, a woman named Evelyn (Sissy Spacek in an eerie cameo) who is now institutionalized after having tried to drown Samara as a baby. Samara is understandably angry, since her psychologically unhinged adoptive mother also abused her and left her to die at the bottom of a well. Because both of her mothers turned on her, it is ironic that she would seek out Rachel to be her "new" mother since Rachel is the one who is constantly thwarting her attempts at revenge.
Once Samara begins to possess Aidan, the film takes a disturbing turn that finds Rachel being accused of abusing him, since Samara's internal attacks leave external bruises and causes his body temperature to drop unnaturally. Even more disturbing is Rachel's forced path to saving her son, which involves literally drowning him in a bathtub. That coupled with Evelyn's admonition to Rachel that she "listen to the voices" turns the film into a stomach-churning parallel of media-hyped instances of mothers unexpectedly killing their children, the most notorious being Andrea Yates (who methodically drowned each of her children in a bathtub). It's a bold ploy, one that takes The Ring Two out of the realm of the fictionally scary and situates it squarely in the world of real-life horror.
Director Hideo Nakata, who directed the original Japanese version of The Ring as well as wrote and directed its 1999 sequel, Ringu 2 (which is in no way related to this American sequel), doesn't give the film a particularly distinguished look, perhaps because all the tricks of J-horror have already been appropriated and run into the ground by imitative American directors. He stages a few crackerjack sequences, though, including one in which Rachel and Aidan are inexplicably attacked in their car by a herd of stags. In purely logical terms, this scene makes little sense, but it works both visually (the staging of the attack is viciously scary) and psychologically (it suggests a rift between Aidan and the natural world, as if everything comes unhinged in his presence). Surprisingly, the film doesn't miss out by dropping the idea of the haunted videotape, the crux of the first film, in the opening 15 minutes. In fact, by letting go of that particular urban legend and diving into a deeper pool of parental nightmare, The Ring Two stakes out more ambitious territory, which is all too rare in a sequel.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2005 DreamWorks Pictures