Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Ring Two

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 23, 2005

Directed by Hideo Nakata/written by Ehren Kruger/starring Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman, Elizabeth Perkins, Emily van Camp, Sissy Spacek/Dreamworks SKG

Ghost girl Samara is back to menace original survivors Rachel and Aidan.

The Ring Two is one of those sequels that make you wonder why you liked the original so much in the first place. Most of the same elements are there, but they’re reconfigured in a way that’s so much less effective. It’s kind of surprising that they made it work so well the first time.

The sequel basically picks up six months after the original left off. Rachel (Watts) has left Seattle to work at a small newspaper in Astoria, Oregon in an attempt to leave the past behind her and start over. Her son Aidan (Dorfman) is there but, if anything, he seems weirder than he did before. They briefly discuss what they did to save themselves at the end of the first movie, but otherwise they seem fine.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, a copy of that darned videotape shows up in Astoria, leading Rachel to find and destroy it. But it turns out that Samara is after something bigger than random revenge – she wants to possess Aidan. It might have been funny if Aidan was already possessed by someone else, as creepy as he normally acts. But alas, I guess they’ll have to save that joke for Scary Movie 4.

I understand and appreciate that they were trying to do something a little different this time around, and not simply rehash the original. But for me, this is where the movie went completely wrong. After an effective opening sequence that indicates how the “Ring” video phenomenon has spread to the boonies (it must be everywhere by now), Kruger completely throws out the whole videotape gimmick that made the original movie work. You remember – people watch the video, then get a mysterious phone call telling them that they will die in 7 days. If they don’t get someone else to watch it, they’re screwed.

Well, forget all that, because once Rachel destroys that particular copy of the tape, the movie goes in a completely different direction and essentially becomes Ring II: The Possession. Which frankly isn’t the movie I paid to see. In order to stop Samara from possessing Aidan, Rachel has to go back to Seattle (leaving the kid alone at home – is that a good idea?) and dig up more dirt on Samara’s history. Then she comes back and, you know, tries to cast the demon out.

I’m sure Kruger and company needed to find some way to bring back Rachel and Aidan to the franchise, especially for Watts’ newfound marquee power. But I wish they had found a more interesting way to go with the characters than this. It’s such a cheap, obvious horror-sequel ploy – when in doubt, have the killer take over someone’s body. It didn’t work for Freddy or Jason, so there’s no particular reason why it should work here. And it doesn’t. Come on, this is a PG-13 movie – are we really supposed to think that the kid’s in any real danger? Or that supermom Rachel is going to somehow fail in her investigative efforts, and not learn what to do when the big showdown comes? That might have made for a more interesting movie, but not one that will please the soccer moms in the audience.

Part of what made the original such a startling kick was that we really didn’t know what was going to happen next. We learned the “rules” along with Rachel, and we only knew as much as she did. At the time, most American audiences weren’t really familiar with Asian horror films (myself included), and the original Japanese version hadn’t been officially released here. So The Ring was that rarest of things for us jaded moviegoers – a fresh experience. This was new territory, and it was a genuine thrill to see a horror film that wasn’t simply a regurgitation of what we’ve seen a million times before. The minimalist sense of style, the use of iconographic imagery, and yes, that brilliant gimmick made The Ring a sensation just because…it was something new.

Now, of course, most die-hard American film geeks have seen several Asian horror films (some at film festivals, but mostly on DVD – you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen of these movies at the video store) and a few American remakes, with more on the way. And while I love a good Asian film, I’m pretty much bored with the whole Asian horror thing at this point. It seems that Hollywood doesn’t have the market cornered on knockoffs after all – the prevailing attitude seems to be that if something worked once, it’s worth copying a few hundred times until everyone gets sick of it. Honestly, if I see one more movie with a young girl ghost with hair in her face, I think I will literally be bored to death.

Kruger obviously knows that we’re being oversaturated with this stuff now, so his choice apparently was to throw out the “rules” of the original altogether and turn the sequel into a standard mother-saving-her-child melodrama. OK, that’s not what we expected. But it’s also not what we wanted either. Once the whole videotape scenario is tossed out the window, the movie loses all sense of momentum. Imagine if someone tried to make a sequel to Alien by keeping Ripley, but getting rid of all the aliens after the first 15 minutes. What would they be left with? Yeah, Ripley’s an important character, but the movie’s called Alien for god’s sake!

Yes, we do have Samara here, but if anything the movie gives her too much power, and in the wrong ways. She was the force behind the videotape in the original – and she could only act through its use. In the sequel, she can pretty much do anything she wants, whenever she wants. Somehow that’s actually less interesting. If she has the power to be anywhere she wants, to possess people at will and kill people whenever she feels like it, why did she bother with the whole video gimmick in the first place? And if she just gained those powers recently, why continue the spreading video phenomenon? Just for something to do?

It’s true that Asian horror films are not known for their sense of logic. It could be argued that The Ring Two fits in perfectly with that tradition. But you can’t set up even a vague set of rules and then completely ignore them. There’s even a scene where a character watches the tape, and is then killed immediately! What? What happened to the seven days deal? Did somebody forget something? Come on, that’s just sloppy writing.

The movie also suffers from another typical horror-sequel problem – trying to overexplain the killer’s motivations to the point that said killer becomes less scary and less fascinating. Here we discover Samara’s “real” mother and get more insight into her whole water fixation. OK, fine, but we already found out enough about her the first time. Any more information isn’t really necessary. Rather than add to the “myth” of Samara, this stuff makes her less effective as a villain. The more we know about her, the less she seems like a scary monster hiding in the shadows. She’s just another screwed-up kid with a mommy fixation, who happens to be dead. Hey, we’ve all got problems, you know?

Clouding our sympathies doesn’t really help the movie much either. We’re supposed to root for Rachel to get rid of Samara, but they want us to feel for Samara too. Why? Are we so politically correct these days that even ghosts have to have their feelings considered too? Maybe Samara should just go on Dr. Phil. “Samara, I’m hearing that your mother tried to drown you, and you don’t feel validated. I think you need a hug.”

The movie’s opening sequence, in which one teenager tries to get another to watch the tape to save himself, is a clear indication of exactly where this movie should have gone. We get a real sense of dread and foreboding, that the Ring phenomenon is spreading far wider than before. What would have been really cool would be to have Rachel deal with that more widespread threat, and her own guilt about it (as she is technically partially responsible for it). Why not have her redeem herself by trying to save Astoria, her new home? Have Aidan make some new friends, then discover that they’re caught up in this Ring deal now. Let her try to save this new group of kids, as well as Aidan, and keep Samara from “invading” their adopted town. In the process of doing that, she could learn all this new info about her, and figure out how to get rid of her once and for all. Thus dealing with the ramifications of what she had done in the first film, and finally putting things right. Wouldn’t that be more interesting, as well as much cooler than the standard possession plot? And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are a thousand other scenarios they could have gone with that would have been better than what wound up on screen.

As I understand it, there’s a short film on the new Ring DVD that does explain how the videotape has spread, how it got to Astoria, and that it’s a much bigger problem than before. That’s the movie they should have made. I shouldn’t have to buy a DVD just to get the interesting parts that should be in the new movie.

Hiring Nakata, the director of the original Japanese Ringu films, to make the sequel may have seemed like a great idea on paper. But really, all his presence does is raise expectations that the film itself doesn’t really meet. Seriously, if the director of Mouse Hunt could make a creepy film out of the remake, then it stands to reason that there are lots of other directors out there who could have done the job. Nakata does a good job of building tension and suspense in individual scenes, but because the script is so far off the mark, it doesn’t really add up to much. And he doesn’t really add a whole lot to the imagery that’s already been established in the first film. We see a lot of the same stuff -the same videotape, the well, the girl in the mirror, etc. It’s just not as disturbing as it was the first time around. Remember how freaky it was when Samara climbed out of the TV set at the end of the original? They repeat that trick in the first few minutes of the new movie, and it just lies there. It makes no impact whatsoever. It’s been done. And there’s nothing new in the sequel that’s anywhere near as impressive as that was.

The Ring Two is not a horribly bad film. It’s just a disappointing one, because it could have been so much better and so much more. Supposedly the plan now is to make a prequel that deals with Samara and why she was drowned. Do we really need this? Hasn’t that ground been pretty well covered already? I can’t blame Nakata for taking the paycheck (if he does actually make that film), but I’d much rather see him trying something new at this point. And after this lackluster sequel, I think we’d all prefer it if the well remained closed.

** 3/23/05

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