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The Ring Two   C

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Hideo Nakata
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman, Sissy Spacek, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Emily VanCamp, Kelly Stables.

Review by Rob Vaux

Consider, for a moment, the Creepy Child. Is there any cheaper or more irresistible scare in all of cinema? The piercing eyes, the hollow cheeks, the preternatural knowledge embalmed on still-forming features. Just put a 10-year-old in earth-toned eye shadow, and you'll have the audience squirming like live bait. Creepy Children come in both genders and a surprising variety of visual patterns, making it easy to match them to the film's art direction. There are even a few grown-up versions (Norman Bates for example) who continue to milk their unblinking stares well into adulthood. Horror films wouldn't think of going forward without a Creepy Child; even those that can't get their hands on one make do with semiotic substitutes like nursery rhymes played in a minor key or toy clowns that lie in the background and look unnerving.

The Ring Two is essentially one great ode to the Creepy Child. Indeed its central concept lays bare an uncomfortable truth about the motif: that they're all basically the same kid in different wigs. Specifically, the film's actively supernatural specimen tries to subsume and replace the merely precognitive one, thus establishing a basic dramatic conflict for its story. Beyond that, however, it's decidedly thin soup, neither strong enough to run on Creepy Children alone nor imaginative enough to bring much else to the table. Under director Hideo Nakata, it attains a sort of passive elegance, but its themes and motifs are equally passive, serving only to make their presence known rather than actively engage us. Nakata helmed the original Ringu -- the Japanese sensation upon which the first Ring was based -- and while he initially seems an ingenious choice (The Grudge did well with a similar tactic), his style clashes uncomfortably with the needs of Hollywood formula.

That doesn't prevent The Ring Two from keeping its wee infernals front and center. David Dorfman reprises his role of Aidan Keller, the vaguely clairvoyant moppet whose mother (Naomi Watts) stumbled across the first Ring's terrible secret. The new film opens with the two now living in a small town in Oregon, much to the distress of the local deer. Soon enough, one of their neighbors turns up dead after watching a strange videocassette -- a sure sign that their ghostly nemesis Samara (a little girl left to die in a well, and who remains somewhat vexed about it) is still up to her old tricks.

Oddly enough, little else is done with the VCR concept, so key to the story's earlier incarnations. After being used to hook us in the opening scene, it's largely abandoned -- a relic from the first Ring that the filmmakers acknowledge and then set aside. We're left instead with Samara as a very direct menace, able to affect all manner of supernatural ugliness in her pursuit of Aidan and his mother. While the desire to try new things is admirable, the shift robs her of her distinctiveness, making her just another boogeyman with a tragic past. Samara's backstory is expanded somewhat in The Ring Two, but it's extremely sketchy and contributes little to the film as a whole (though it does give Sissy Spacek a triumphant Carrie of a cameo).

Nakata doesn't help matters by rendering the pace lumpy and uneven, evoking scares mainly with the old "sudden loud noises" routine, which never builds past the momentarily shocking. They're mixed with a series of meditative passages using the crashing waves of the shore and the scenic beauty of the Northwest. Though well-rendered (the best entails Samara's spirit realm envisioned as a fog-enshrouded forest of white trees), they struggle to mesh with the film's popcorn scares the way they did in both The Ring and Ringu.

Neither does The Ring Two display any reach beyond the expected Samara vs. Mother/Son cage match. Watts has some scenes of steely resolve, but her character is just about played out, while the film's other adults are little more than potential victims. An overly long running time causes further difficulties, forcing Nakata to stretch the material farther than it should go. (We can only see so many close-ups of Dorfman's eerie little face before it grows repetitive.) The result is wan, thin, and surprisingly boring, even for the simple needs of a genre picture. Despite some promising elements and a few spooky thrills, The Ring Two is ultimately left with very little to say.

Review published 03.17.2005.

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