The Ring Two (review)

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Circle of Death

“We only made one copy,” Naomi Watts laments as people start dying again, six months after she made that only one copy. Obviously, Naomi Watts has never been on the New York City subway on any given Friday, when an army of little Chinese people roams the trains, offering for sale bootleg DVDs of every theatrical feature film that opened that very day. Obviously, Naomi Watts has not yet realized that the human urge for reproduction now extends to anything with audio and/or visual components, particularly if there’s an element of the illicit about it. So is it any surprise that goofy high school kids looking for a cheap scare would pass around the scariest video ever? C’mon.
Fortunately for those kids, that video is just as scary now as it was before Naomi Watts got involved — or unfortunately, perhaps, since it’s so scary it kills you… but still, truth in advertising and all that. We the moviegoing audience are not so lucky this time around. Oh, it’s not that I’m saying dying would have been preferable to sitting through The Ring Two — it’s not that bad, just kind of boring and repetitious. We’ve seen this all before, haven’t we?

Call it the Paradox of the Sequel: A sequel can’t be too original, for it exists merely to give the audience more of the same of what they loved the first time out. But it can’t be too derivative, either, because if you’re just covering the same old ground, the audience will feel cheated. The Paradox is particularly cruel to this sequel. Its progenitor was so shockingly creepy that all its frightening, and highly original, imagery instantly became clichéd — its very effectiveness inoculated us against being terrified by such things again. But director Hideo Nakata, remaking his Japanese-language Ringu 2, trots them out anyway — the spooky TV static, the psychic bruising, the evil little girl who needs a haircut — throws them in a blender, and hopes we won’t notice how familiar it all is. Hard to be terrified by what you see coming.

What’s happened is that six months after the events of The Ring, Rachel (Watts: The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Le Divorce) and her son, Aidan (David Dorfman: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), have moved to a new town in an attempt to start over. And coincidentally, it’s in this very place where scary-movie-watching high-school kids are dying again. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence — perhaps Samara (Kelly Stables), the evil little girl on the video, is deliberately targeting Rachel and Aidan. Or maybe that doesn’t happen until after Rachel destroys the copy of the video she discovers accidentally after — oops! — accidentally breaking and entering in the house of the latest victim. (Rachel does a lot of busting into places where she isn’t supposed to be: other people’s houses, police stations, coroner’s vans, body bags…) The destruction of the tape makes Samara so mad that she forgets her own rules of haunting/horrific murder (the warning phone call, the seven-day waiting period, the leap from the TV) and starts bedeviling poor little Aidan using powers we didn’t know Samara had. Is there some kind of night school spooks and ghosts can attend to pick up new skills? Is it like a Beetlejuice thing, and Samara actually has an unseen sidekick pulling all the nasty tricks? That’s pretty much the biggest mystery of all.

“I know this sounds completely crazy,” Rachel says at one point to her latest would-be, soon-to-be-dead boyfriend (Simon Baker: The Affair of the Necklace, Red Planet), and that’s always a bad sign. When the movie doesn’t even make sense to the characters in it, you know you’re in trouble.

Look, the kid playing Aidan is amazing, particularly later on in the film when Aidan gets possessed by Samara — it’s tough enough for grownup actors to play two characters at once, never mind a ten-year-old, or whatever he is. And there are a few new moments of skin-crawling ookiness — like, no kidding, the attack of the army of Bambis — although the scariest scene of all comes when Sissy Spacek (Tuck Everlasting, In the Bedroom) makes her appearance as Samara’s institutionalized mother, and she looks just like Michael Jackson, right down to the pajamas. But there’s no cohesion to the weird hodgepodge of creepy imagery, and no consistent tone. We’re laughing at all those redone Ring clichés far more often than we’re catching our breath in fear.

And I gotta wonder, too: If the TV is the doorway into your house for some crazy-ass psychopathic devil child, why not just get rid of the TV? Why not just push it out the door into the street, Craig-T.-Nelson-in-Poltergeist style? Are we so addicted to the glass teat that we cannot tear ourselves away even if our very lives are in danger? Man, that is pathetic.

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