Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ring Two’ dips into the well too many times

(PG-13) **

March 17, 2005

According to "The Ring Two" production notes, a series of "bizarre happenings" occurred while filming.

The production office was flooded overnight on the seventh day of shooting by a burst water pipe. This mirrored both the time frame of when characters in the movie meet their demise and the water damage that remains the only evidence accompanying the crime scene.

Then there were swarms of bees that blanketed a prop truck. That was followed by a set costumer being "charged by an antlered buck," which also echoes a scene straight from the new movie. But perhaps the most notable bit of coincidental bad luck occurred before production began on the sequel. "The Ring" director Gore Verbinski proved too busy filming the follow-up to his own "Pirates of the Caribbean" to commit.

So the studio hired "Ringu" director Hideo Nakata. His 1998 Japanese film was what the superior and scarier 2002 American version was based upon.

Ironically - or predictably - the result is a horror flick that feels like a Japanese remake of a Hollywood film. It's slow, moody, humorless and less reliant on effects. In an era when most sequels live by the credo of more, more, more, "The Ring Two" offers less, less, less.

Structurally, however, "The Ring Two" is a near duplicate of the original.

Reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has moved from Seattle to sleepy Astoria, Ore., to escape the memories of bad seed Samara (Daveigh Chase) and her cursed videotape. When Rachel's son Aidan (David Dorfman) begins acting funny, she deduces that Samara may be trying to resurrect herself through the boy.

The setup leads to a story that rarely veers from its predecessor - from an intro featuring teens watching the infernal tape to random animal attacks, a doomed platonic boyfriend and a trapped-in-well climax.

At no point is the film unwatchable, just kind of dull and familiar.

In many ways the acting is an improvement. Watts (a recent Oscar nominee for "21 Grams") seems more believable this go-around. The great horror films are almost always anchored by a dominant female performance (from Ellen Burstyn in "The Exorcist" to Sigourney Weaver in "Alien" to Sissy Spacek in "Carrie") and Watts proves up to the task, even when the script gives her little to work with.

Speaking of Spacek, the actress shows up here as the institutionalized biological mother of Samara.

Although Nakata's version stays close to Verbinski's (which was itself quite a departure from the Japanese director's "Ringu"), he doesn't always observe the internal logic of the other films. The whole "seven days" phone call aspect is dropped in favor of portraying Samara as a force of random malevolence who can kill at a moment's notice. If that's the case, she could have struck down anyone for any reason in the first film.

And what's the deal with the freaked-out animals? Sure, the crazy horse on the ferry provided one of the most memorable scenes in "The Ring," and this time a different batch of quadrupeds offers similar excitement. Yet such behavior ultimately doesn't really fit with the rest of the movie's themes. Beware of a mass squirrel attack if there is a third picture.

"The Ring" grossed more than $128 million at the domestic box office, so it's no great surprise that the studio wanted to crank out a sequel. But "The Ring Two" lacks vision and dips into the same well too many times to be of much interest.

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