Hideo Nakata's 1998 horror film "Ringu" sparked new life in Japan's long fascination with the long-haired dead girl subgenre. It inspired Gore Verbinski's American remake which sparked new life in America's horror genre, that, up until its 2002 release was clearly sputtering and devoid of ideas. A sequel was only inevitable, and the fact that it was directed by the brain behind the original hyped up the anticipation of "The Ring Two."
We last left Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her troubled son Aidan (David Dorfman) in Seattle where they narrowly escaped the clutches of Samara, the tortured young girl who was tossed down a well by her stepmother, and resurfaced in ghost form to claim the lives of the unfortunate souls who watched her tape.
Now Rachel and Aidan have relocated to Astoria, Oregon. No longer at the prestigious Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rachel now runs the Northern Astoria, a small newspaper outfit in a town that makes news out of a cat climbing up a tree, so says Rachel's new potential love interest, Max (Simon Baker), anyway.
Just when they thought their lives were back to normal, Samara strikes again and finds her favorite family to torment. Only this time she wants to be part of the family, and goes as far as bedeviling Aidan to accomplish that.
What we get now is a series of scenes of Rachel doing her investigative routine around town, and along the way we learn more about the origins of Samara and her family. Not that the biggest question of how the tape was produced is answered, but crucial plot points are revealed that uncovers the true motive behind Samara that was falsely masked in the first film.
But unfortunately, what made the first film suspenseful and creepy fun to watch has grown tired and clichéd. No longer are we startled by the static of the TV that suddenly turns on by itself on. No longer are we frightened by the stop-go movements of Samara.
Speaking of, Samara looks nowhere near as impressive as she did the first time around. In fact, she isn't even credited with an actress, unlike the first film that featured a very chilling Daveigh Chase. She shows up a lot, but is CGI generated and comes off less urgent.
The effects -- which ultimately made "The Ring" one of the scariest films in recent history -- look cartoonish in the sequel, and the CGI Samara resembles something out of the inspiration-lacking "The Grudge."
In "The Ring Two," Samara returns to possess Aidan. We see him fall ill, run a temperature of 93, and begin speaking weird talk which tells us something isn't right. Rachel takes him to her office where reporters buzz around the desks at 3 AM as if they were never told that the only news they cover is cat-in-tree sightings.
Eliciting the help of Max, Aidan is continually shuffled around to different locations while Rachel searches for an explanation. There are some cool scenes, such as the one where they are attacked by wild deer, and ones that don't make any sense, such as the one where the bathtub overflows upside down onto the ceiling. Alas, there are much more of the ladder, accompanied by unusually bad dialogue and plenty of duh moments; "All she ever wanted was a mother!"
A few new concepts are introduced, such as the loophole that allows Rachel and Aidan to communicate to each other while sleeping (because Samara hears everything, but only when they're awake), but I expected something more original than the bathtub ritual used to exercise demons last seen in this year's "Constantine."
The engine behind "The Ring Two" is no longer fresh and has become a tired concept. It's been done before, by itself and better, and lacks the scares one would expect from this franchise. The typically gullible may toss and turn in their seats from -- admittedly -- a few well planned moments, but not enough to sustain the nearly two-hour duration.
It's not a complete bomb, and to be sure, better than the dismal horror films we've seen so far this year, but it isn't worthy of the name. If anything, "The Ring Two" proves that Japanese directors aren't necessarily better than American filmmakers.
"The Ring Two" is okay, at best, but I think it would be better for everyone if we just left Samara down in that well for good. Where she belongs.