Oh, how I wanted to like The Ring Two. I was perhaps disproportionately fond of the first one, which, for all its literal-mindedness, plot holes, and sentimentality toward the end, was the scariest, most consistently atmospheric creepshow I’d seen since Seven. The sad, frustrating, inexplicable thing is that the sequel is built around plot holes and sentimentality, while the scares, the atmosphere, the suspense, and the mild subversiveness of the original have been tossed aside; they’ve thrown the baby out and kept the bathwater.
Things looked so promising: The screenwriter of The Ring, Ehren Kruger, had returned, and the new director, Nakata Hideo, knew the territory—he had directed the first two features in the Japanese Ring series. But for some reason Kruger and Nakata jettisoned their basic premise in favor of a storyline that combines some of the worst elements of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and the Susan Smith case. Rachel (Naomi Watts) and Aiden (David Dorfman), the mother and son who survived Samara’s curse in the first film, have relocated to sleepy Astoria, Oregon, where Rachel is an editor at the local paper and trying to be the perfect mother she so stridently wasn’t before (which we know because she bakes and wants Aiden to start calling her Mom). She’s become such a good mother that Samara tries to reverse-adopt her by taking over Aiden’s body. The invasion causes a variety of physical symptoms, leading doctors to suspect that Rachel is abusing and/or neglecting him (oh, the irony). And to top it all off, people keep telling Rachel that she has to be willing to murder her son in order to save him.
The first film relied in part upon the hackneyed and tasteless child-in-peril plot, but it was in the background, pushed aside by the mystery of the cursed videotape and the elaborate investigation that (partially) resolved its conundrum. This time the child in peril is all we get. The problem with that, aside from its general cheapness, is David Dorfman. His role in the first film, eerie and vaguely clairvoyant, drew knee-jerk comparisons to Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, but there’s nothing waifish or delicate about this kid. He projects such competence and self-containedness that you wonder why he would permit his mother to become so protective. With a kid like this, it’s hard to generate any terror or suspense on his behalf. You just know he’d get out of the situation fine, with or without Rachel’s help.
Ah, back to Rachel. Naomi Watts is one of my favorite current actresses, usually dependable for an unpredictable, balls-out performance, but here she seems watered down, pedestrian. Watts has publicly said that she was contractually bound to appear in The Ring Two, and her performance feels very much like the fulfillment of an obligation. The script smoothes over all the rough edges that made Rachel interesting before, giving Watts little else to play. She doesn’t bring much energy to the suffering mother role, the way Julianne Moore did in the otherwise awful The Forgotten, nor does she make much of the irony that she’s accused of a being a bad mother after she finally starts busting her ass to be a good one.
The film’s structure shamelessly apes its predecessor while trying (and failing) to ratchet up its scares. It opens with the death of a suburban teen, bringing Rachel into the picture, sending her to Moesko Island to investigate the Morgan Horse Farm (to save her time, a bridge has now been built), and eventually back to that nasty well to meet Samara face to face. Along the way, we get more crazed animals—deer, this time, sloppily computer animated—and a run-in with Samara’s birth mother—Sissy Spacek in a disheveled black wig that makes her look like Loretta Lynn after a bender—that adds little to the narrative but does contradict or make incomprehensible much of the original story. There’s a clever (probably unintentional) sight gag when a Botoxed-looking Elizabeth Perkins gives herself a deadly injection to the jaw, but the brief fun is offset by an unnecessary cameo by Gary Cole, shamelessly delivering the same smarmy performance he’s been giving since Office Space. (Or is it more like his performance in The Brady Bunch Movie? Either way, Cole’s turning into a one-trick pony).
Walter Parkes, the producer of both American Ring films, said in an interview that The Ring Two would not follow the Japanese sequels (though the first film followed its Japanese predecessor quite closely) because they were “very narratively unsatisfying.” Is this his idea of satisfying? The irony is that, as part of special-edition The Ring DVD, Dreamworks has released a short film, Rings (also written by Kruger), that bridges the two movies and points the story in a much more organic direction, one that follows the apocalyptic implications with which Suzuki Kôji closed the novel from which all these films sprang. In the short, Samara’s video has become an underground hit, a kind of drug for spoiled suburban kids who get off on the hallucinations and the view of “the door between life and death” that it offers. Watching Rings, I thought the premise was slight and rather shapeless, but after The Ring Two, it seems almost like genius.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
The Ring Two / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()