Thus, what made the "Ring" movies so scary -- the introduction of terror into everyday objects and rituals -- disappears into a F/X fest of rampaging deer, flooded ceilings, cracking walls and horrific visions. In other words, the series is now thoroughly Americanized even though the original Japanese director, Hideo Nakata, is at the helm. Domestic and international boxoffice prospects look stellar as only J-horror purists will care.
Both the original "Ringu" (1998) and DreamWorks' carbon copy played off the gimmick of a cursed videotape. After people watch the short tape, a phone rings and viewers have exactly a week to live. In the course of both movies, a female reporter realizes that by making a copy of that tape and letting someone else view the copy, the curse is lifted -- only to fall on the subsequent viewer. Which, of course, perpetuates the evil cycle.
Six months after the tragic events of the first film, reporter Rachel Keller (Watts) and son Aidan (Dorfman) flee Seattle to settle in a small coastal town in Oregon. Almost immediately, Rachel reports from a crime scene that looks eerily familiar: a dead teen with his face frozen in horror, an unmarked videotape and -- one new element -- the house is flooded.
Realizing what's up, she breaks into the house, steals the tape and destroys it in a bonfire. Which only antagonizes the malevolent ghost Samara (Kelly Stables), who is behind the tape. Samara, we know from the first film, is terrorizing the world in revenge for her murder by her own mother in a deep well.
After the opening moments, returning writer Ehren Kruger starts to move the sequel away from the world of TV sets and ringing phones by rejigging the rules governing Samara so she can more or less materialize at will. The movie borrows from "The Omen" and "The Exorcist" in making Samara's main objective to be the co-habitation of Aidan's body. Thus, Rachel faces a dilemma -- Aidan is now both her beloved son and a thoroughly evil ghost. What's a mom to do?
In another rule introduced, for no apparent logic other than it helps Kruger past tricky plot points, Samara can hear all conversations between Rachel and her son except when they sleep. So all sorts of clues get passed to Rachel by Aidan in their dreams.
This is an unusually sloppy film as plot threads dangle at the finish and peripheral characters scarcely register. Simon Baker, playing Rachel's colleague at the local newspaper, has little to do other than baby-sit. Sissy Spacek turns up in a pivotal scene in ghastly white makeup and long, stringy black hair that makes her look like someone done up as Michael Jackson for Halloween.
Nakata keeps interiors and exteriors dark even in daytime, and images of water are everywhere. Gabriel Beristain's camera is constantly in motion, often on a crane, which gives the movie a nervous, gliding energy. An atmosphere of foreboding is aided by moody, insistent music developed, according to the credits, from "themes by Hans Zimmer."
While nearly every shock comes at predictable moments, there is genuine ingenuity behind many, and the movie is surprisingly fresh for one made by a guy on his third go-round with the same material. No doubt, Nakata was energized by the American setting and cast and access to state-of-the-art visual effects.
THE RING TWO
DreamWorks Pictures presents a Parkes/MacDonald production
Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger
Based on the novel by: Koji Suzuki
Based on the film by: The Ring/The Spiral Production Group
Producers: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Executive producers: Mike Macari, Roy Lee, Neil Machlis, Michele Weisler
Director of photography: Gabriel Beristain
Production designer: Jim Bissell
Music: Hans Zimmer, Henning Lohner, Martin Tillman
Costume designer: Wendy Chuck
Editor: Michael N. Knue
Rachel: Naomi Watts
Mark Rourke: Simon Baker
Aidan: David Dorfman
Dr. Temple: Elizabeth Perkins
Martin: Gary Cole
Evelyn: Sissy Spacek
Jake: Ryan Merriman
Emily: Emily VanCamp
Evil Samara: Kelly Stables
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time -- 109 minutes