© Alex Apple, 2005.
Please note: the screenshots in this review are taken from the movie trailers and a VHS copy of an MTV "making of" programme. They are therefore not of the normal Snowblood Apple quality and will be replaced when the DVD is released. This is also the reason for no wallpaper being available at this time.

Directed by Hideo Nakata, 2005, 109 minutes. Starring Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Watts, Kelly Stables, Daveigh Chase and Sissy Spacek.

So, farewell then Gore Verbinski. Off you toddle to your pirates and letting Johnny Depp get away with a bad Keith Richards impression, and let's have the US iteration of our favourite horror franchise get a steadying hand, away from your CGI visual trickery and cheap jump shots. So please may we introduce... Mr Nakata? Is that really you?

Yes, it's that Hideo Nakata, the by now much-heralded director of Ring and its better-late-than-never-and-let's-forget-about-the-first-sequel follow-up Ring 2. The man who almost single-handedly launched the Asian horror boom in 1998 and who went on to direct, erm, a rather dull romantic comedy (Sleeping Bride) as well as another horror tour de force, Dark Water. But nevertheless, he's an accepted master of the horror slow burn, and it is after all the second Ring sequel in the franchise that he's helmed. The portents are good, surely?

It's around six months since the events of The Ring, even though Aidan seems to have aged about three years. Rachel Keller and her son have relocated from Seattle to the small seaside town of Astoria. Rachel's taken a job at the local paper and, if anything, Aidan seems to have got weirder – the bug-eyed look still remains, and the focus of his attention this time, rather than Airfix models, stamp collecting or WWE Wrestling, like any normal kid, is digital photography, placing each of his works in a obsessively organised album.

Unbeknownst to them, though, Samara's curse continues. High-school student Jake (last seen in Rings) has finally managed to get piece of hot totty Emily round to his place. She's certain they're going to cop off; his only motive, of course, is to get her to see the tape. As the deadline of 11pm quickly approaches, she finally agrees to see it (providing they can cop off afterwards, of course) and, bizarrely, Jake retreats to the kitchen to wait it out. As water starts pouring under the door her realises something's gone horribly wrong, and as he rushes back to Emily he's sucked into the TV, into Samara's world...

Rachel's at the newspaper office when word of the death comes through. Recognising the signs, she rushes up to the house in time to see a traumatised Emily being taken away by the authorities. Her curiosity is not sated there though, and she sneaks into the unattended ambulance containing Jake's body, unzips the body bag and finds... Samara, who grabs her wrist, saying "I've found you". Rachel collapses to the floor, and when she's gathered herself, Samara has gone, leaving Jake's distorted face and body lying on the stretcher. Rushing to the police station to try to talk to Emily, she gets stonewalled by the cop on the desk, only (again, rather miraculously) to catch a quick word with Emily while she's unattended, who confirms the tape's still back at the house. Rachel has no hesitation in breaking into the (by now, also unattended) house and grabbing the tape before burning it in the woods.

That night, Aidan's woken by the TV. As he goes down to investigate, he finds Samara's well on screen, and as he tries to escape the water now flooding into the house, he's grabbed by Samara and dragged into the TV. What happens next is unclear, but he wakes up the next morning with a start, soaked, and claiming to Rachel (who he irritatingly, but significantly, still addresses as Rachel) he's had a nightmare and nothing really happened. However, as the day develops, things start to happen; Samara appears to him in both a mirror and his digital photos, not least, as well as a bizarre attack on Rachel's car by a herd of deer. (Why? Only because, apparently, screenwriter Ehren Kruger thinks deer are scary. Well, if he'd ever seen the ones that nibble Apple Towers ' garden on a regular basis, he'd think again, I'm sure.)

By now though Aidan's temperature has dropped to hypothermic levels, and Rachel, once home, calls for urgent medical help. When none is immediately forthcoming, she goes to tend to Aidan herself, only to hear a bizarre scratching noise as she enters his attic bedroom, finding an empty bed and Samara scratching the wall with her fingernails, only then to be replaced by a now ashen Aidan lit solely by the light of a nensha tree in the shape of the one in Samara's barn bedroom on the Morgan ranch quickly being burned into the wallpaper...

Rachel's now convinced Samara has returned, though why she doesn't know. She flees to her colleague Max's house, where the pair put Aidan in the bath to warm up. Rachel meantime retreats to the house to get some things; on her return she finds Max frantically beating the bathroom door open as water pours out through any opening, Aidan not responding. As the door flies open, Rachel sees Aidan still in the bath, with the water from it flowing upwards towards the ceiling. As the water falls back to the floor suddenly, Rachel watches as Samara rises behind Aidan, her hands leaving nensha marks on his back. As the journalist grabs her son, she's shocked to see just Samara in the tub, who utters just one word – "mommy" – before morphing back to Aidan again.

Max is determined to take Aidan to hospital – he's close to death from hypothermia now, and on his admission Rachel is basically accused of having abused him, and is forbidden from seeing her son. So, having explained what's going on to Max, she sets out to track the history of Samara, from her adoption by the Morgans onwards, to see how she can close the circle and get her son back...

Lots was written about The Ring Two immediately after its release about how much of a disappointment it was - indeed, many fan reviews were extremely negative. Yes, it's by no means as strong as The Ring – which, don't forget, was pretty much a straight copy, both in the story, thematically and visually of the original four Japanese movies, with a bit of cribbing from Nakata's Dark Water chucked in for good measure. The problem with The Ring Two is really that Kruger and (to an extent) Nakata have tried to take the story into a completely new direction, one that's actually quite cerebral, without thinking through the implications thoroughly and – here's the rub – trying to work fully in the formulaic structure of a mainstream Hollywood horror-thriller.

Visually, The Ring Two lacks the flair that Verbinski showed in the first movie. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as some of The Ring was, in places, quite gimmicky. There's no blue tone here, for example, and, while the colours can be quite washed out in key places, the visuals never get in the way of the story. Yes, some of the CGI is dire – a watery Samara flooding into a bathtub, for example, or a really bad stag (resembling Scooby Doo, no less) floating about three feet above the road before crashing into Rachel's car. It needs to be said though that Nakata's movies have never been flashy – he's much more of a storyteller than a visual artist, and this is totally reflected in this movie. Just like some of Nakata's other movies – and Dark Water really springs to mind - The Ring Two is a real slow burner. It takes well over an hour for things to really get going, and you get the feeling that the early jump scenes were put there solely at the studio's insistence that something scary had to happen to keep audiences satisfied – this being a mainstream horror movie, don't forget, with a franchise at stake. That said, there's no cheap scares of the "Noah filing" type of the first movie – each is thoroughly justifiable in terms of the plot.

The tension really starts to build as the true narrative – Samara's history, and her lost mother – is revealed. Ideally for me, this is where the majority of the story should have been concentrated, relegating the, frankly, rather tedious "oh my God, Samara's back" antics to just a few key scenes. Sadly, though, after some deft work on Nakata's part to increase the anxiety of all concerned, it's lost in the final, climactic scene where Rachel utters a line so wholly out of character it renders the entire scene – even the entire movie – totally ridiculous. It's a kick yourself, did-she-really-just-say-that moment, and one which in the cinema I saw the movie in, resulted in some not inconsiderable giggles from the audience. Either it is a (very) ill-advised attempt at humour in what is a pretty sombre piece, or such an ill conceived reaction that surely some studio executive, or even Nakata himself, really should have picked up on it.

In terms of performances, Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller repeats the overwrought performance she gave in The Ring. She is really way too over the top in places, especially when required to bring emotion into her role. She's fine at looking scared, but is unconvincing when trying to show the determination to either protect her son or destroy the demon Samara. David Dorfman as Aidan is even weirder than he was in the previous movie, but even this isn't really enough to convince that he's truly possessed by Samara.

Really, though, this is the Rasen of the US Ring series. There's enough new ideas here (why Samara doesn't sleep, her background, and the hint that Samara's curse has been around for some time before the Kellers became involved) to keep the series going for a while, despite a gaping plothole. Equally, there's nice references to the Japanese series throughout – both in the script where one doctor referenced is a Dr Koji, as well as visually when a couple of scenes recall sequences in both Ring 2 and Ring 0. At the same time, to get the most out of this movie you'll need to have a pretty good knowledge of The Ring as well – some key plot points are glossed over (such as the nensha tree) and there are some shots which again echo the first instalment. It would also have been good to see the idea of the Cult of Samara, hinted at in Rings, developed further rather than dropped outright. The one gaping plothole – which I'm not going to divulge – does give necessary space for subsequent movies to fill, but it does create the intriguing possibility that Samara herself is not the root of the curse, but that there's some other power that is...

So yes, The Ring Two does have some fairly serious flaws. But it's not a bad movie by any means (and still way better than The Grudge), and I think when the DVD comes out it'll give a necessary chance for multiple repeated views. Nakata has created something which, as usual, needs to be thought about, while working within the framework of a mainstream Hollywood horror film – which creates a movie where neither side wins. If he'd sided with the popcorn crowd, we'd have had a movie much like One Missed Call, with crowd-pleasing set pieces and a formulaic conclusion. In The Ring Two though he's created a fascinating mess of a movie, unsure of its own identity, much like his own Ring 2. I guess we'll just have to wait to see how it ages...

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Chills: 6/10
Violence: 0/10
Shock Factor: 5/10 - a few jump scenes, and a nice building of tension before losing it all suddenly
Hideo Nakata: happy to be in Hollywood
Aidan Keller: doesn't look like Samara
Samara: doesn't look like Samara

*** Not as good as The Ring, but worth a look nevertheless ***


You can find links to all the Ring cycle movies on the Ring Cycle main page.

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