Director: Hideo Nakata

I often talk about how if one thing is guaranteed in horror cinema, it's that sequels prevail. Almost every horror movie, if they have even a miniscule amount of success, will probably get a sequel. Or at the very least, it'll be ripped off by no less than six other movies if it didn't rip anything off itself. However, something else equally as prevalent as sequels are remakes. Remakes aren't limited to horror movies (such as recent movies like The Stepford Wives and Alfie), but it seems like horror movies are quicker to be remade than movies in other genres. The list of horror remakes is endless. From classics like Night of the Living Dead and The Thing From Another World to lesser-known movies like Thirteen Ghosts and Willard, remakes in the realm of horror/science fiction have been around for a long time. Hollywood was even doing remakes as far back as 1978, with a remake of Don Siegel's 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a movie that was remade a second time as simply "Body Snatchers" in 1993). Since both horror sequels and horror remakes are so common, why not do a sequel to a remake of a horror movie? Such is the case with The Ring Two. Based on the 1998 Japanese movie Ringu, the runaway success of The Ring in 2002 not only inspired movie studios to remake any Asian horror movie they could get the rights to, but prompted Dreamworks to greenlight a sequel. Instead of going the obvious route and remaking one of Ringu's sequels, the producers struck their own chord and created a whole new adventure in the Ring cycle. How does it hold up?

THE RING TWO (2005)Our film opens roughly six months after the events of The Ring. Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman) have relocated from Seattle to the coastal hamlet of Astoria, Oregon, hoping to begin new lives and put the past in the past. Aidan has developed an affinity for digital photography, while Rachel has gotten a job as an editor at the local Astoria newspaper. Unbeknownst to (and unfortunately for) them, they aren't alone. Word comes through the newspaper office's police scanner about a dead teenager named Jake (Ryan Merriman). When certain bizarre details arise (the victim was found close to the television, water is everywhere, and the police and paramedics can't stop talking about his face), the cogs in Rachel's brain start working overtime.

She rushes to Jake's house, slinking into the unattended ambulance to sneak a peek at his body. But when she unzips the body bag, none other than vindictive ghost Samara Morgan (Kelly Stables) pops out, grabbing Rachel's arm and whispering "I've found you." The frightened Rachel runs out of the ambulance and heads to the police station, hoping to speak with the sole witness to his death, Jake's friend Emily (Emily VanCamp). Rachel manages to get a quick word with Emily, who confirms that Samara's killer videotape is still in the VCR. So what does Rachel do? She does what any cute blond reporter who's been haunted by a dead little girl in massive need of a haircut would do: she's gonna cut this problem off at the knees. Rachel sneaks into Jake's house that night and steals the killer videotape, taking it out to the middle of nowhere and destroying it. If only it were that simple.

Soon thereafter, things start going to hell. The first clue is when Aidan begins acting stranger than usual. Nightmares about Samara make him more withdrawn, but then he pulls a complete 180 and acts less like himself (i.e. more like a kid). He even begins calling Rachel "mommy" after years of calling her by her first name. It gets much weirder than that, as Aidan begins showing signs of advanced hypothermia for no reason. His body temperature dips to dangerous lows, causing his mother to panic and turns to coworker Max Rourke (Simon Baker) for help. They put Aidan in a hot bath to warm up, and when Rachel returns from her house after getting Aidan a change of clothes, she finds Max trying to beat down the bathroom door. Aidan isn't responding, and water is gushing from under the door. Max goes downstairs to get some tools, and the door flies open, allowing Rachel to really get a good look at the trouble. Aidan is still in the bathtub, but the water is floating upwards toward the ceiling. The water suddenly falls back to the floor and into the tub, and Rachel watches in horror as Samara rises from the water and grabs Aidan, leaving large hand-shaped bruises on his back. Rachel rushes to pull Aidan away, but as she reaches for him, she finds just Samara in the tub. She speaks just one word, "mommy," and turns back into Aidan.

Max chooses now, of all times, to finally walk into the bathroom, where it looks like Rachel is drowning Aidan. His body temperature is even lower, like he's been living at the bottom of a well for a week. Max pressures Rachel to take Aidan to the hospital, and she finally relents. That may not be such a good idea, because after noticing the bruises and hearing Max's story, local physician Dr. Emma Temple (Elizabeth Perkins) forbids Rachel to see Aidan. Fearing for Aidan's wellbeing and with accusations of child abuse circling around her, Rachel returns to Seattle to dig deeper into Samara's past. Seeking information from the now-abandoned Morgan ranch and Samara's institutionalized birth mother Evelyn (Sissy Spacek), Rachel must find a way to circumvent Samara's apparent plan: to regain corporeality by taking over Aidan's body and making Rachel her new mother.

Many reviewers were extremely negative regarding The Ring Two, mainly because they thought it was a disappointment. I'll be the first one to admit, The Ring Two not as strong as The Ring, but it's still worth at least a watch. What the producers have done here is taken the story in a direction that leads to a quite cerebral movie. Unfortunately, the cerebral aspect of the movie isn't fully realized, and they spend too much time attempting to wrap it around the stereotypical Hollywood formula. And it seems like they made an extreme jump in logic too. In the first movie, Samara's trying to seriously cramp the lifestyles of the Kellers by making them not alive anymore, but in The Ring Two, she wants a family. I mean, I don't have a problem with a shift in plot, but how they went from Point A to Point B is beyond me. If they explained it, I missed it. Don't get me wrong, The Ring Two is fun as long as you detach your brain and not worry about the silliness. The movie is at its most frightening when it makes absolutely no sense at all, still managing to generate a tension akin to the first Ring. Much of the tension is generated by Rachel's search to find Samara's origins, which is ironically the thing that also kills some of the tension in the first Ring. The previous Ring is all about Samara's ambiguous nature. Like many horror movies, it's far more intense if you don't know the reasons or the intent of the villain. You just know that they're evil, which sometimes is all that matters. I'm actually torn on this. While Samara is incredibly scary when we know only the bare bones of her motive and history, part of me wants to see answers to the questions the character raises. Some of those questions are answered in The Ring Two, but I guess that's what Ring 3 or a prequel would be for.

As with the previous Ring, the main cast helps elevate the movie above mediocre. Naomi Watts is once again brilliant in her role, making a fun switch from a curious reporter in The Ring to a curious concerned mother in the sequel. Upping his game is David Dorfman. While I thought he was just watchable in the previous movie, he really won me over with his return to the role of Aidan. That kid is just plain creepy in his own right, and he's even creepier and weirder here. Kelly Stables is fine as "Evil Samara" (credited as such because Samara was such a little sweetheart in the first Ring), but I didn't find her to be as eerie as her predecessor, Daveigh Chase. Chase is credited as playing a version of the raven-haired harbinger of doom, but unfortunately, the producers utilized cleverly recycled footage from The Ring along with a computer-animated depiction of her, so critiquing Chase's performance would be like critiquing Crispin Glover's performance in Back To The Future 2. Perhaps the best performance of the movie, however, is Sissy Spacek as Samara's wonderfully eccentric birth mother. Spacek plays her character as if she were Carrie White's mother without the religious zealotry, and I'd love to see the character turn up in any future Ring sequels.

The movie also bears some nice direction from director Hideo Nakata, who helmed both Ringu and Ringu 2. While it doesn't have the same stylistic flair as Gore Verbinski's direction in the previous Ring, Nakata's direction (along with some great cinematography by Gabriel Beristain) gives the movie a much-welcomed Asian feel. The score, by Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman is nice, and I thought it was great that they brought back some of the haunting themes from Hans Zimmer's score for The Ring, but Lohner and Tillman only wish their score was as good as Zimmer's. I also call Ehren Kruger's script into question. His script (and the movie in general) just reeks of Hollywood involvement. It's like the script would have only made a 90-minute movie, and they tried to stretch it into a two-hour frame. The Ring Two had the chance to be an awesome supernatural psychological thriller, but it just comes off as a less-than-stellar hybrid of The Ring and Gothika instead. Any potential is almost completely wasted by simply thinking the audience is full of morons and catering to them. However, as I said above, the movie succeeds in being spooky without making any sense whatsoever. There's one scene where a group of CGI deer (who look like they were animated by the same group who worked on the Scooby Doo movies) attack and nearly demolish Rachel's car; when Rachel enters the basement of the Morgan house near the end of the movie, we see antlers and stuffed deer heads. The audience feels a sense of dread seeing these antlers and starts making connections that aren't there. There's no reason (that I could see, anyway) for the antlers and deer heads to be connected to the kamikaze deer. It's like Chewbacca living on Endor; it just doesn't make any sense. But no matter. Even if we don't truly know why, it's still a little spooky. I also would have liked to see the "Samara cult" from the short film Rings (a sort-of "Ring 1.5" from the DVD re-release of The Ring) mentioned here, but again, I guess there's always Ring 3.

There are many good, scary parts, but there are other parts that are just plain unsatisfactory. The ingredients are there and the recipe is great, but ultimately, the final meal starts to fall flat. Yes, I know not every sequel can live up to their predecessors, and I'll at least give the filmmakers here credit for making an attempt. As much bad as I've said about the movie, I still thought it was entertaining for what it was. And for being entertaining, I'll give The Ring Two a solid three stars. Worth a Friday night viewing, at the very least.

Final Rating: ***