Written by: Ehren Kruger, Kôji Suzuki (novel), Hiroshi Takahashi
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, and Simon Baker
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"They don't dream, you know. The dead don't dream, and the dead never sleep. They wait, they watch for a way to get back."
The Ring Two is not nearly the worst horror sequel ever made; however, it is certainly among the most disappointing follow-ups ever. If we’re being honest, this is mostly no fault of its own since its very existence is questionable to begin with. Should there even be a sequel to The Ring?* None of the Japanese attempts to follow up Ringu made a compelling case for it, perhaps because each one was forced to reckon with breaking the logic behind its conceit: Sadako/Samara’s tape creates one giant feedback loop of a haunting that can only be stopped by being perpetuated. I mean, it’s right there in the title: a ring implies an unbroken circle, meaning there’s very few directions a sequel could logically take.
None of this stopped Paramount from trying to mount their own attempt at capitalizing on the enormous success of The Ring, of course. And, to their credit, they didn’t exactly churn out a cheap, quick cash-in, as it arrived nearly three years later and with Naomi Watts still in tow despite her Hollywood ascent following the first film. Even more promising was the presence of Hideo Nakata, perhaps seeking a second chance at crafting an effective Ring sequel after helming an earlier lukewarm attempt a few years earlier. If ever there were a compelling case that a true follow-up could be effective, certainly this would be it—which makes it all the more disappointing that The Ring Two is such a dud.
Paradoxically, Watts’s return as Rachel Keller is what paints the sequel into a corner. Having her contend with another haunting from Samara immediately unravels the satisfying but fucked up conclusion to The Ring that saw her and son Aidan (David Dorman) conquer Samara by passing her story along. She’s since moved on from Seattle and settled in small town Astoria, where she’s taken a job at the local podunk newspaper. Her past catches up to her, however, when she’s called on to investigate the bizarre death of a teenager (Ryan Merriman) whose heart just mysteriously stopped. It all sounds just a little too familiar, and her suspicions are immediately confirmed when she discovers a copy of Samara’s tape in the boy’s living room. Having now been reunited with Rachel, Samara sets her sights on possessing Aiden in the hopes that she’ll finally have the loving mother she’s always wanted.
Which, of course, isn’t what it seems like she’s ever wanted, if we’re being honest. Considering she drove her own (adopted) mother insane and insists on spreading misery like a virus, it doesn’t seem like maternal companionship is much of a priority. And yet that’s the story here, more or less, as The Ring Two attempts to embellish on the mythology rather than repeat the formula. Granted, I suppose this approach is the more admirable of the two, even if it results in a sequel that’s wholly unlike its predecessor in most respects. It feels like more of an unnecessary addendum than a vital sequel, existing mostly to string together big effects sequences at the expense of telling a story.
This represents an inverse of The Ring, of course. Where that film moved with a purpose, its urgency bolstered by Rachel’s need to uncover Samara’s mystery within a week, The Ring Two lethargically chugs along for an absurd 128 minutes in its unrated director’s cut. A seemingly interminable procession of aimless scares keeping an undercooked story afloat, the sequel lacks any sort of vitality or intrigue. Somewhat ironically, it feels like one of the many films The Ring wrought since it’s more of a standard ghost story. With Samara unbound from the tape’s “rules,” she’s free to create any type of CGI havoc that could be dreamed up on a 2005 budget, which in one case means an laughably awful herd of fucking digital deer. Seriously, must have looked at The Ring’s fascination with horses and was like “let’s do that but with deer,” so there’s an entire motif here that doesn’t add up to much of anything.
In a desperate attempt to replicate the original’s verve (or perhaps in an attempt to actually create any kind of a story here), it sends Rachel digging even more deeply into Samara’s history. As is often the case, further demystifying a horror icon proves to be ill-advised: one of the great things about The Ring is that it only gives up the ghost so much by leaving the particulars of Samara’s origins to the imagination. And while The Ring Two doesn’t exactly blow the lid off of it, the revelations here do just enough damage to lessen the aura surrounding Samara. Cryptic whispers from locals in The Ring suggested that the Morgans resorted to unnatural means to possibly conjure Samara, but the sequel bluntly confirms she was simply adopted.
Granted, The Ring Two doesn’t completely explain everything here: she’s inexplicably a hellion child even within the womb if her actual mother (Sissy Spacek!) is to be believed, so much so that nuns had to intervene when the frantic girl attempted to drown Samara in a fountain shortly after her birth. Some aspects—such as Samara’s fear of water—linger on, unexplained, but the other revelations here just feel so trite when compared to the original film. Even the inspired casting of Spacek as Samara’s mom can’t quite compensate, no matter how clever of a nod it is. The Ring Two is constantly taking two steps back for every forward step, almost as if it can’t get out of its own way.
In fact, what’s most frustrating about Rachel’s visit to Samara’s mother is how relatively inconsequential it is. For the most part, it could be excised without much of a fuss, thus allowing the film to breeze along with a bit more of a purpose, whatever that might be. You kind of have to sift through a lot of junk to arrive at it in the form of a familiar climax that once again finds Rachel at the bottom of that infernal well, trying to fend off Samara once again (this time for good, she insists, almost as if she knew nobody would crave further Ring sequels after this). The climax is an adequate reflection of just how this far this sequel strayed from its more restrained predecessor: here we have a loud, tacky, and unsightly rendition of Samara’s big reveal. It’s not scarier—it’s just more, which flies in the face of the original’s approach.
Speaking of “more,” The Ring Two flings a lot at the wall in the hopes that something will stick. Not much of it does and even less of it coheres, but some scattered elements work in isolation. The prologue here is a mean-spirited riff on the one from The Ring: instead of involving two friends, it finds a boy frantically trying to pass on Samara’s curse to an unsuspecting girl (Emily VanCamp) before his time is up. Even more interesting is the backstory to this offered in "Rings," Jonathan Liebesman’s official short film that bridges the sequel to the original film. Here, we learn that the boy is part of an online group of pseudo-cultists who intentionally watch Samara’s tape and document their bizarre experiences.
Honestly, it’s a cooler concept than anything found in The Ring Two, a half-hearted sequel at best. Credit is due to Nakata for remaining true to the dreary, desolate vibe required of this franchise, but without a compelling story, all the life is drained out of it. This is a film that just doesn’t click despite its weirdly lurid material (how many mainstream horror films climax with a mother almost drowning her kid?) and strong performances (something you might not recall: in addition to Spacek and VanCamp, The Ring Two also features the likes of Simon Baker and Gary Cole). In a vacuum, many scenes (like a possessed Aidan convincing a nurse to go Michael Myers on her own eye with a needle) feel like they could belong to a functional film; together, they feel like a haphazard collection of cool ideas in search of a story.
Ultimately, you remain unconvinced that a sequel to The Ring is viable—not that I let such thoughts enter my head in the lead-up to the film back in 2005 (I still hadn’t seen the Japanese sequels, which were finally released on DVD just weeks before). Because the franchise has been fallow for over a decade, it’s easy to forget just how anticipated The Ring Two was. This was a big deal, especially for someone who proudly displayed a poster for the first film on his wall. Obviously, it wasn’t my first brush with sequel disappointment, but it was one of my most vivid encounters. I can’t think about The Ring Two without remembering that creeping, dreadful realization that I was watching a dud slowly deflate before my eyes. Maybe it simply just had too much to live up to, or maybe it should have taken a different approach. I suppose the impending release of Rings may provide answers to both of these possibilities, and I can’t help but be excited—even if I most certainly should know better.
*Exempt from this criticism is Ringu 0, which is technically a prequel and easily the best in the franchise after the original(s)
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