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Ring Two, The (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 18 March 2005
For this first sequel to the American version of “The Ring” (2002), DreamWorks has imported Hideo Nakata, the director of the Japanese version and some of its plentiful sequels/prequels. But screenwriter Ehren Kruger has tamed the weirdest elements of those movies, which were partly what made the film so popular overseas, and why it was remade here.

The movie has been tamed down into an interesting but standard American horror movie, where each plot turn logically connects to the next, where villains are obvious and heroes endowed with almost a golden glow. Explanations for the spooky stuff are simpler, more like you’d see in an okay horror movie made for television.

Even the American “The Ring” reduced the strangeness; Nakata’s films had their own mythology unrelated to American legends of ghosts, even unrelated to Japanese supernatural traditions. A videotape that kills you a week after you watched it? That idea came from the bright minds of the filmmakers, not out of a book on ghosts and superstitions. There was no obvious link between the long-haired ghost child (called Samara in the American version), videotapes and the need to murder innocent victims. But there was an emotional thread that tied them all together.

In the first ten minutes of “The Ring Two,” Kruger snips those threads and tosses them away. Yes, the videotape is back and still intent (?) on collecting its victims, which it does in the opening scene. But then Rachel (Naomi Watts), who’d found a way to evade the tape’s threat of doom, simply burns the tape in a barrel, and that’s all she wrote for the tape and its dangers. It’s not even mentioned in the rest of the movie, but Samara (as before, Daveigh Chase) is still out to get Rachel.

But not to kill her. Just what Samara is after is the secret of “The Ring Two.” It’s a relatively conventional secret, nothing very surprising, another commonplace idea that serves to further reduce the impact and imagination of “The Ring Two.”

Rachel has fled Seattle for a quieter life in Astoria, Oregon, on the Columbia River (often seen in the background, as well as the remarkable bridge that joins Washington and Oregon there). She’s living with her son Aidan (as before, David Dorfman), and working on the staff of a small local newspaper. She has a tentative relationship with co-worker Max (Simon Baker), but her world is stirred again when she learns that the videotape has claimed another victim, right there in Astoria.

Nakata makes the most of the misty, cool-looking scenery in and around the attractive small town (also seen in “Free Willy” and “Kindergarten Cop”); he even includes the town’s landmark, the Astor Column, in one shot. There’s a scene in a roadside bazaar that practically breathes the woodsy atmosphere of Western Oregon, and the locations have been chosen with care. Production designer Jim Bissell and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain do fine work; it all seems very authentic, and I’m originally from Oregon. There’s even one remarkable set, Rachel’s home, that allows a camera to follow young Aiden from his room down to the kitchen—but this set is used this way only for one shot.
The special effects are minimal but dazzling. Because Samara was drowned in a well in the backstory of “The Ring,” water is prominent throughout “The Ring Two.” The dark Columbia river is often visible in the background, including the amazing bridge that connects Oregon and Washington across a very wide expanse, and there are a couple of sequences with bathtubs that are eye-popping, including one in which water falls up, and accumulates on the ceiling.

The PG-13 rating means that there are few ghastly scares, and one has to wonder why the talented, Oscar-winning makeup maestro Rick Baker was hired. There are a couple of briefly-glimpsed horrifying faces, but the scale seems much below Baker’s usual efforts. There’s also a sequence in which what looks like all the buck deer in the upper left corner of Oregon gather on a road to menace Rachel and Aiden. A couple of them even attack the car, which also slams into another one. It’s an interesting scene—but what’s the point of it? Samara’s goals center on a bizarre version of mother love, and require that both Rachel and Aiden live, not die. So why were the deer after them? Deer make a pretty exotic menace in the first place; it’s a little unsettling to be threatened by Bambi. So they’re showy and surprising—and utterly beside the point.

Naomi Watts is again very convincing, very ingratiating as the heroine, who’s tough as nails and determined to outsmart the evil of Samara, who is again embodied by Daveigh Chase. One of screenwriter Kruger’s better ideas is that in her efforts to save Aiden from the long-haired ghost, Rachel’s actions are all too easily interpreted as child endangerment. When she and Aiden seek shelter at Max’s home, he becomes suspicious that she’s actually trying to kill the boy; at a hospital, the doctors also believe she’s up to no good. This plot turn is a good idea; it does bring in more characters, which the movie sorely needs.

Basically, it’s about only Rachel, Aiden and Samara, and Samara has no lines. The teenagers in the opening scene are not seen again. In an effort to uncover more of Samara’s past, Rachel returns to Washington, and encounters an exuberant realtor (the valuable Gary Cole) at the ranch where Samara grew up—but the realtor simply leaves the movie, not to be seen again. It’s an odd bit of color that has nothing to do with the story at hand.

As Samara’s real, but now insane, mother, housed in an asylum, Sissy Spacek has a bit more to do, but again, is whisked away, never turning up again. Spacek, looking eerily like Michael Jackson, is very good in her brief scene, but she’s always top-notch, and should work more than she does these days.

The real standout in the cast, though, is young David Dorfman as Aiden. He’s utterly convincing, rousing the audience’s sympathies and fears by turns, and sometimes simultaneously. It’s a thorough, well-shaded performance, completely professional, nothing at all like many child actors. This is probably the best performance by a boy in a horror movie since the heyday of Martin Stephens, who chilled audiences worldwide in the original “Village of the Damned” and “The Innocents.”

Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain and production designer Jim Bessell do excellent work. Beristain keeps things low-key but not oppressively so; most of the movie takes place at night, but even the daylight scenes are under overcast skies (hey, it IS Oregon). Very good use is made of the scenic locations; as one who grew up in Oregon, it’s very pleasant to see my home state treated so imaginatively. Beauty isn’t the purpose of the shots, it’s atmosphere, but Oregon is thoroughly atmospheric. The interiors are realistic but also imaginatively design; there’s not an ordinary view in the entire movie.

Articles have reported that lately the largest American audience for horror movies consists of teenaged girls. This may be why “The Ring Two” has gone for a PG-13 rating, but it also means the movie is bloodless and tame; the scares have to come from sudden shocks and the building of suspense. On these levels, the movie achieves its goals, but it’s at the loss of the weirder elements of the first American “Ring” and the group of Japanese films.

Nakata’s direction is largely in a standard, all-purpose style, but he does cut on action in unusual and inventive ways. He also works well with the actors, and knows how to throw a scare away when necessary. But he’s handicapped by the commonplace storyline and the need to tone the film down to a teenaged audience. However, on that level, “The Ring Two” is a worthwhile example. At 111 minutes, it’s distinctly too long and becomes attenuated at about the 2/3 point; you become impatient, more anxious for the movie to simply end than for it to come to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not likely to be a big hit, but it will give teenage girls plenty of heebie jeebies.

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