We open in Astoria, Ore., a poetic-sounding town about to suffer a series of Münch-like Screaming dead faces. A teen-ager tries to get his girlfriend to watch a videotape. If she does watch, he won't end up with perma-scream. If she doesn't, well, let's just say he won't be getting a date to the prom this year.
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) struggles with Samara (Kelly Stables).
See, if you see this video, you'll die in a week - unless you can get someone else to watch it who in turn will die in a week unless ... Talk about the Mother of all Movie Marketing Campaigns.
Too bad I can't join its chorus.
The problem is intrinsic to horror film sequels. The ghost is already out of the bag, and thus a good deal of the suspense along with it. What to do? Oh, I know, increase the special effects budget!
The Ring Two goes a step further, hiring the Japanese director Hideo Nakata, in his American debut, the man behind the film Ringu, upon which The Ring was based. Talk about, ahem, full circle. It also engages The Ring's screenwriter, Ehren Kruger. Plus, you have the return of the mighty duo of Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman).
It all works on paper and in the DreamWorks boardroom, but the screen is another matter. Whereas the first film was tightly told, the sequel is sprawling and unfocussed. There are scenes that seem imported from other films, though the deer sequence, while bearing little pertinence to the plot, is one of the most terrifying passages in the film. The Ring Two can't even stick to its own metaphysics. In one scene, the ghost Samara actually forces someone to commit suicide. If that's possible, why does Samara go around producing Münch-like screams on all her victims elsewhere?
The core of the two films, doubtless spawning a third Ring even as we speak, is the dynamic between the two main actors. Is there another actress comparable to Watts? I mean her face. It's ... there's something odd about it. I can only use the word "jowls" to describe the distensions on either side of her lips. At some point early in her career this might have seemed a liability. In truth, it renders her all the more attractive and, well, child-like. Contrast that with the old soul shenanigans of Dorfman - who might as well be a dwarf-man. The tension between the child-like mother and the manchild son is fascinating to observe and the only reason to give this film a star total that exceeds its sequel number.
Maybe that's why they make sequels: so you'll appreciate the original all the more. Plus, with this one, if you don't watch it within a week ... you can always rent the DVD.