The lame lifelessness of Hideo Nakata’s The Ring Two goes against Hollywood’s conventional wisdom.
Super-flashy American directors are supposed to gum the works with style over substance, not filmmakers who not only originated the source material, but directed it several times over already. (Nakata directed the original Japanese film Ringu, as well as its sequel.)
The problem isn’t in the material’s inability to translate from Japanese to American audiences. Director Gore Verbinski gave 2002’s The Ring a keen visual style, pulpy, ominous momentum and surprisingly nasty twists.
Plus, it was a hit, thus the sequel – one to originally be directed by a rookie American director before he left over the usual “creative differences.”
The Ring Two is creatively different from the first film, alright. Visually, it looks like it will be the same sleek spook fest, but it ends up being a narratively hollow exercise of franchise.
The Ring subverted the horror trend of its ghost-seeking-vengeance story in its brilliant ending. But The Ring Two settles for standard possession plots and totally telegraphed scares. Unless shots of rippling water are your idea of a frightful night out, this one’s only for the goosiest girls in the audience.
The sequel picks up not too long after the events of the first one, in which the curse of the evil ghost Samara eluded reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan, played by the pale David Dorfman, who still looks like all he really needs is some sunlight, a baseball and a glove.
You know the drill: You watch her video and you die in seven days. Well, not if you make a copy someone else watches before the week is up. Then it’s that person’s problem. That’s how Rachel and Aidan beat it, but they also shoulder the guilt of keeping the evil chain going.
Although you’d think a smart fresh start would be more than one state away, mother and son move to small-town Oregon from Seattle to start anew. Wouldn’t you know it, the one copy shows up at a mysterious crime scene? Maybe someone returned it to the wrong Blockbuster.
Back near the presence of those who defeated her, Samara decides she wants new digs — that is, Aidan’s body, which she gradually takes possession of despite Rachel’s efforts. To save her son, she’ll have to again delve into Samara’s dark, twisted path and make some sacrifices of her own.
Dorfman’s skin might be colorless, but his performance is not. As Samara takes hold of Aidan, the young actor subtly unsettles with changes in body language and demeanor. The best such segment comes with a scene involving Dorfman and Elizabeth Perkins, playing a medical doctor wielding a needle. It’s the sort of wonderfully macabre moment absent from too much of the film.
And there are fewer bits of twisted humor than before. Only the incomparable Gary Cole scores as a Realtor at an open house offering a bogus reason as to why the previous tenants left.
Hans Zimmer’s eerie, but classy, score has to work twice as hard to drum up dread. When burning walls, cascading waves of water and angry, attacking deer don’t create chills, something has to.
That’s a main problem with the film — the abandonment of the creeping horror of its urban-legend premise for unimpressive special effects.
The film rebounds a bit in the last half-hour (as the full measure of what Rachel might have to do grows clearer through a foretold prophecy), but by then it’s too late. And an anticlimactic chase scene makes it a total lost cause, complete with faux toughness through use of the F-word.
One character says sometimes you have to kill your babies to save them. Nakata certainly has killed his. Take that to heart and just watch The Ring again.