Series note: It is imperative that you watch The Ring (2002), and preferably also the short film Rings (2005), before you watch this movie. The Ring Two is constructed as a further "chapter in a novel". It will make much less sense, and have far less significance, if you do not watch the other films first.
Set an unspecified but relatively short period of time after the events of The Ring, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has now moved from Seattle, Washington to Astoria, Oregon, with her son Aidan (David Dorfman). They're hoping the move to small-town life will help them emotionally recover from the horrific curse they experienced--namely that watching a particular videotape, associated with a strange little girl named Samara (Daveigh Chase/Kelly Stables) would result in one's death if one didn't make a copy and show it to someone else within a week. But when Rachel, now a reporter at a small Astoria newspaper, overhears a report of a disturbingly familiar death on the police scanner, she investigates and discovers that "the Ring" has followed her to Oregon. Apparently the videotape they made at the end of the first film to keep themselves alive wasn't the only one to be made. Rachel burns the tape she finds at the crime scene, but does that bring about a new kind of curse?
While this is a decent film, it unfortunately does not come near the excellence of The Ring, Rings, or even the original Japanese film, Ringu (1998). I was geared up to love The Ring Two. I think The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, is superior to the Japanese original, and the short film Rings, co-written by The Ring Two scripter Ehren Kruger, was just as good, if different, taking the story into an exciting new direction (as suggested by the last few pages of Kôji Suzuki's Ring novel) that was prime fodder for social commentary in our Internet Age.
But unfortunately, Kruger didn't continue the same idea past this film's prologue. It's difficult not to believe that maybe the flaws in The Ring Two are the result of Hideo Nakata being in the driver's seat, as the same blemishes also crept up in Ringu and especially Ringu 2 (1999), both of which he also directed. The problem is that The Ring Two spends far too much of its time in a slow, straightforward drama mode, to the detriment of its horror aspects, so that they often seem incoherent and "tacked on". It seems like maybe deep down Nakata really wants to be doing realist drama instead.
As realist drama, there are a number of interesting things going on here. Watts and Dorfman both turn in impressive performances--we wouldn't expect anything less from Watts--in a story that is more of a contemplative meditation on dysfunctional mother/child relationships. For much of the film, the children--Aidan and Samara, go from being the villains to being more like victims. The mothers and "the system" are portrayed more as villains. In the sequence prior to the climax, our focus changes to cultural institutions and people upholding the norms within them as the antagonists. It's a weird, but slightly effective shift that makes The Ring Two feel more like a paranoid conspiracy theory film for a moment. But the climax returns to Samara, and reinterprets the curse as a symptom of the dysfunctional familial relationships that are the focus of the film.
It's not that the kids don't do bad things, with Aidan mostly as a "channel" for Samara, in a more literal, symbolic parallel between Samara and her mom and Aidan/Rachel, perhaps suggested by occasional interpretations of The Ring as eventually being about Samara trying to "reincarnate" herself as Aidan. On a surface level, you can still read the film as an evil kid flick; but the kids are doing bad things because they're seeking healthy parent/child relationships. It was weird in The Ring that Aidan kept calling Watts' character "Rachel" instead of "Mommy", but it remained unanalyzed. Here, it is made an issue, and eventually becomes a hinge for resolving the climax. The focus on parent/child relationships also suggests an odd reinterpretation of The Ring, retroactively putting more of an emphasis on Rachel's neglect of Aidan while she was pursuing the mystery of the curse, as well as the odd distancing suggested in scenes such as her conversation with Aidan's teacher.
When Nakata does bother with more straightforward horror material, it is usually rewardingly subtle and surreal, aided greatly by special effects maven Peter Chesney. A number of sequences stand out--such as the gravity-defying water, the "deer attack", and the scene in the well (which was strongly reminiscent of Nakata's Ringu 2). But again, they do not have quite the impact they should because of the surrounding material. The rest of the technical elements--cinematography, production design, score, etc.--are competent, but The Ring two does not have nearly the stylistic panache of The Ring or Rings.
The film is an odd amalgamation of genres. The emphasis on realist drama may be off-putting to many horror fans. The horror and weird supernatural stuff may be off-putting to many more mainstream film fans. In the end, the people who will probably like The Ring Two the most are those who were very fond of Ringu 2 and Ringu 0: Basudei (2000). Although I enjoy both, they're closer to "average" than "great" to me. If another American Ring film is made, I'd like to see the story of the Rings short continued instead.
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