Fear comes full circle.
Running Time: 110 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Sequels are always about going back to the source – so it is important, in evaluating ‘The Ring Two’, also to look at the wellspring from which it has arisen. In 1998, Hideo Nakata directed the chilling modern ghost story Ringu, based on Suzuki Koji’s cult horror novel of the same name, and following upon its huge success in Japan, he made ‘Ringu 2’ a year later. As the reputation of Ringu began to grow abroad, Hollywood took interest, and in 2002 Gore Verbinski (then best known for masterminding the Budweiser frogs) directed The Ring (scripted by Ehren Kruger), which became a runaway hit – even if in fact it added little to the original besides a gratuitous scene involving spooked horses, and some grating exposition that left nothing to the imagination. In the same year, as though to highlight how far ahead of his American imitators he was, Nakata adapted another Suzuki Koji novel, resulting in ‘Honogurai mizu no soko kara’ (or Dark Water), which was an even deeper, darker and damper horror than his own Ringu, let alone The Ring.
This is where the waters become really muddy. Verbinski was unavailable for the sequel to The Ring, but he suggested that Nakata himself be invited to direct it – much as Takashi Shimizu was directing the Hollywood remake of his own Ju-On: the Grudge (2003). Except that Ringu 2 had been deemed too weird by half for a mainstream American audience, so ‘The Ring Two’ (again scripted by Kruger) is entirely unrelated to Nakata’s original sequel, instead revisiting all the set-pieces from the first film while tapping into ideas from Nakata’s ‘Dark Water’ for a new sense of direction – which will no doubt make the American team currently producing the remake of Dark Water worry that they are working in an already flooded market.
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman) have moved to Astoria, Oregon to escape the memory of their encounter with the vindictive ghost of Samara (Kelly Stables) – but Samara has found new ways, apart from her cursed videotape, to escape the confines of the well where she died, and soon she is haunting Aidan again. This time, however, the abused and abandoned girl is looking for something other than revenge, and it will take her real mother (Sissy Spacek) to explain what Samara is, what she wants, and how she can be stopped – at least until the next sequel.
While even the original Japanese sequels never quite lived up to the impact of Ringu, it is difficult not to feel a little sorry for Nakata as he presides over this dumbed-down American bastardisation of his past achievements. Without wishing to give too much away, Samara’s motivation here is lifted straight from Dark Water – but unfortunately with none of the subtlety – and although ‘The Ring Two’ comes tantalisingly close to reproducing that film’s hauntingly tragic dénouement, in the final reel it loses its nerve, resorting instead to a silly confrontation (complete with a crassly crowdpleasing catchphrase adapted from Aliens). While Sissy Spacek’s return to the horror genre for the first time since Carrie (1973) is more than welcome, she is nonetheless reduced to a merely expository function, as though Kruger (perhaps rightly) does not trust English-speaking viewers to connect the narrative dots – and somewhere amidst all his rushing to make sense of the irrational, Kruger has neutered Nakata of his power to frighten.
In the end, all that keeps ‘The Ring Two’ afloat are Naomi Watts’ acting, some excellent production design, and an eerily bizarre set-piece in which Rachel and Aidan clash head-on with some very aggrieved CGI deer. Otherwise, the only grim spectacle to be found here is of a franchise going down the drain.
It's Got: Aggrieved deer (corresponding to the spooked horses of The Ring).
It Needs: Less exposition (although I wouldnt mind an explanation as to why the well that was so impossible to climb in The Ring is such a cinch to scale here).
Well, well… Nakata's way with weird water starts to head down the American drain.