MOVIE REVIEW: The Ring Two

If anything raises The Ring Two slightly above its predecessor on the horror film barometer, it’s the sequel’s gung-ho philosophy: “Forget the explanatory narrative, go for the gold!” The “gold” in this case being a plethora of seat-jumping absurdities and admittedly delicious surprises that unfortunately leads to a predictably bland conclusion. Luckily though, the scares are, for the most part, genuine enough to hold our attention.

The Ring Two is set some indiscriminate time after the “events” of the first film, when an evil ghost named Samara terrorized the viewers of her brief “greatest hits” video, a tape teeming with eerie images of death and suicide. Now, our heroine Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her morbid young son Aidan (David Dorfman) must relocate to a small Oregon town to escape the terror of Samara, who looks, more than ever, like Cousin It from "The Addams Family." While the first film yawned its way through endless exposition, particularly in a subplot that attempted to explain Samara’s backstory, The Ring Two moves briskly along, losing momentum only in the final thrust as its expected pseudo-metaphysical, semi-Freudian conclusion begins to take shape.

The first act is quite a knockout as these films go. Director Hideo Nakata (who directed The Japanese Ringu) and writer Ehren Kruger at least have fun subverting our expectations, albeit slightly, right from the opening scene. At first, the film appears to begin exactly the same way as the original—two naughty teenagers checking out the deadly videotape and getting iced—but, it turns out one of them (the male) is actually aware of the tape’s effect.

As the female views the tape, her informed companion goes to the kitchen and nervously waits for her to finish it. Here he receives a call from a friend, whom he informs that he has found “some chick from school” to watch the tape (meaning he’s out of trouble and she’s in for it, if you’ve seen the first film). But the moral of the story soon becomes apparent—don’t expose your girlfriend to spiteful restless spirits, or you will get screwed. I won’t ruin it, but the scene is surprisingly well-constructed and more fun to watch resolve itself than pretty much anything in the first film.

The film continues in this vein for its first hour or so, jumping from scare to scare with a remarkable dexterity that never gets tired, due mainly to a refreshing filmic playfulness. It employs jump-cutting in bizarre places; a couple scenes are sped up for an enhanced psychological effect; and Nakata crafts images with foregrounded objects or bodies that seem disjointed in the frame—a subtle effect appropriate to the film’s tone.

A couple sequences are true genre standouts, especially one scene that seems pulled out of the Fox show “When Animals Attack.” I shall coin it the “deer-on-crack” scene, and I promise it’s worth the price of admission, even if it is completely, utterly ridiculous.

Unsurprisingly, the film grinds itself to a halt when Rachel leaves to track down Samara’s natural mother (a laughable cameo by Sissy Spacek), seeking advice on ways to deal with sons possessed by bizarre Japanese video-demons. While the plot tries hard to get back on track, the last half-hour is only notable for Watts’s ultra-sassy heroine moment (“I’m not your fuckin’ mommy!”) and Nakata’s nice handling of some scenes that in less capable hands could have ended up drenched in Hollywood pathos.

Overall, The Ring Two is no masterpiece. But it is extremely diverting and well-made, and doesn’t pretend to be anything to be anything more than a reason to throw some popcorn tossed in the air. Considering the horror films of late, that’s saying a lot.

—Staff writer Clint J. Froehlich can be reached at froehlic@fas.harvard.edu