March 19, 2005

The Ring 2 (Review)

Summary: Don’t expect to be scared witless; it’s creepy but not quite as alien as the original. Instead, you get a halfway decent story, believably acted. Plus, there’s enough Samara to drive home the point that she is a dangerous chick to mess with.

When the filmmakers set out to make a sequel to creepy remake “The Ring” the first thing they must have done was dismiss the idea of remaking the japanese sequel “Ringu 2.” The japanese sequel was simply horrible. Impossible to understand and not particularly interesting or scary.

In addition to that problem, Naomi Watts had become a star in the intervening years and was not interested in making a plotless horror flick full of “cat scares.”

These influences are felt strongly in The Ring 2.

“The Ring” and its various follow-ups (in both manga and film) are based on the novels of Koji Suzuki, a popular japanese author. I have read the manga and I can attest that they would not make for successful American cinema if they were to be closely adapted. In the novels, a completely implausible scientific explanation for Sadako’s (in English, Samara) unholy powers is presented to the audience. This context is off-putting enough to sap one’s willingness to work at understanding the rest of the story.

Luckily, the American version of The Ring 2, like its predecessor, surpasses the original.

We catch up with Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Max (creepily listless Simon Baker) as they are finally settling into their new digs far away from the horror of the first film. Unfortunately for them, Samara is back. Last time she seemed to want to haunt your TV (and to kill you.) This time she wants… gee, what does she want?

And that’s part of the mystery. Why is Samara back? What does she want? How do you get rid of something if you don’t know why it keeps coming back in the first place? Rachel would sure like to know, but when your son has suddenly and mysteriously fallen ill, a mother can be a bit distracted.

Unlike the first film which generated creepy atmosphere mostly from strange images and odd music, this film has decided to have a stronger plot and go for a more emotional horror response. Rachel was driven by the threat of Max dying in the first film, but it was formulaic than. Of course she’s going to try to save him. The gimmick was in place and the plot moved along.

Max was creepy before because his mystery was the mystery of childhood that adults forget and never understand. Children can tell us things we have forgotten, and this odd wisdom is a mystery to us. In horror films, children tell us about the evil spirits and the adults are in frightened awe.

In The Ring 2 parents will identify with the mystery of an unexplained illness. The helpless feeling of a child who cannot tell you what is wrong with him when there is something clearly wrong. The frustration, the uncertainty and the impotence are all real life horrors, and Naomi Watts conveys them convincingly on screen.

But while we have experienced illness as a real thing, Rachel (and we) know that Max’s condition is no ordinary illness.The job of answering the questions I posed earlier is now driving the plot forward. What does Samara want?

And rather than giving us a goofy scientific explanation of her powers (we keep them supernatural here, and who cares where they come from) we get something more compelling. And, Rachel hopes, something she can work with.

Along the way there are some startling visuals and genuine jumpy moments, but not by slasher standards.

I went to The Ring 2 expecting to be creeped out of my skin like I was with the first movie. Instead, I got a decent story wrapped in an emotionally charged movie about the mother-child relationship. I don’t know if the original audience will appreciate the shift in focus, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Posted by James at March 19, 2005 12:17 AM
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