The Ring Two, based on the original Japanese movies, Ringu and Ringu 2, and sequel to the US version The Ring, is full of flashes of haunting images, a creepy little dead girl, and a vicious pack of wild…deer? While this continuation still carries over the suspense we knew from before, sadly, we start to see it as many other “horror” movies, something we watch for fun, without the feeling of fear. I was really anticipating something great here considering that the director of The Ring Two also directed both Japanese films, but through it all we must remember not to expect too much; this is a sequel after all.
The Ring Two picks up six months after the events of the first movie and Rachel and her son have moved away from Seattle to escape their busy lifestyles and haunted videotapes. Suddenly, brace yourselves here, a tape shows up and teenage kids are watching it. Rachel, played beautifully by Naomi Watts, goes snooping around into ambulances, police stations, and private houses to find out that the dead girl, Samara, is at it again. Samara comes around to kill people if they don’t make a copy of her demo tape and show it to someone else within seven days. Kind of like those garbage emails you get with horribly written poems on them that, while the ocean and birds and rainbows are smiling on your friendship, you’ll have bad luck forever if you don’t forward it. If you haven’t ever received one of those types of emails then you probably don’t have any thirty-something women in your address book.
After Rachel finds out the soggy girl is up to her old tricks, she later realizes that Samara is not after her, but her son. Confronted with the terror of wanting to protect her son and yet becoming fearful of him, Rachel looks again (like in the first film) at Samara’s history. She heads to Samara’s home, leaving her son alone again, finds Gary Cole, and asks him a few questions. He says, “yeeeeaaaah, about thaaat…,” and sends her to check out stuff in the basement. Of course, the suitcase in the basement has everything she needs to go out again, still without her son, to search for more clues. She finds out that not only did Samara's adopted parents want her dead, but also, her birth mother, played by Sissy Spacek, attempted to kill her.
Once Watts has all the information she can get, she goes back to being spooked out by her son and the film loses all direction. It was at this point that I came to realize either I wasn’t “getting it” or there was no “it” ever put in the movie. I found nothing that clearly showed me if Watts’ intention was to destroy the girl and the curse, or if she wanted to help her so she would just stop. You get the vibe that Rachel wants to be some sort of mother figure to Samara and at the same time wants to take Samara's power away in order to save her Smothers Brothers look alike son.
There are quite a few suspenseful parts (the stuff I both love and hate) and some predictable parts, but as a whole I didn’t find The Ring Two to be some cult-like, or epic thriller. The version I watched was the “unrated” edition which means the movie, which dragged in pace before, now has an extra eighteen minutes to pull through to get to the end. I did like that it pushed more into the lore of Samara’s story, but, again, I just didn’t know what direction Nakata wanted it to take once we knew more. For example, I liked the use of the water special effects and the film touches on why there’s so much water although it doesn't explain it fully, other than expecting the audience to know it’s a symbol in Japanese stories. Samara has a fear of water and drowning, and doesn’t want anything to do with it. And yet…every time she appears, there is water coming out of strange places: door jams, couches, TV sets. I get that there is a connection, I’m just not sure what that connection is, or what it stands for.
Similar to this, deer are a symbol in the movie, but there is no connection between them and Samara that we’re ever told about. However, Rachel and her son are attacked by deer while driving. Why is this included at all? I’m assuming we’re supposed to be freaked out by this juxtaposition of the gentle deer now being something scary, but come on,…it’s a deer. And a bad CGI deer at that! I think this is one of those instances where something from one culture just doesn’t translate well into another. The last thing Americans think about with a deer is symbolism. Hitting them with cars we can relate to, but symbolism? No. That’s like trying to convince us that the Aflack duck will be the next serial killer.
As far as construction of the film goes, it is tolerable. The musical score is good and is about the only thing that helps us transition from one scene to the next without leaving. There are also some unique camera angles which are different, but some of them are not the most effective. Do we really want to look down Naomi Watts’ nose while she explains her past? Shouldn’t we be face to face with her, or at least looking from behind at the reaction of the person she’s talking to? Likewise, I thought there were a ton of great visual still shots, and some key disturbing images. The problem here is that this is a movie and not a collection of stills. If we only see one good impacting shot every twenty minutes we’re less likely to become absorbed in the beauty of the film. So, as a whole, it isn't the most enthralling film, but it is better than a lot of movies out there where they try too hard to be artsy.
I think the big problem today is that “unrated” doesn’t necessarily mean the movie will be more scary or graphic than before, or even good. That’s not a guarantee, it’s a sales pitch. If the public believes in “Extreme” Corn Nuts, then they’ll love an “unrated” version of anything. “Unrated” only means just that: it wasn’t rated by the MPAA. The original version of Ring Two was PG-13, so rather than marking Rated R on the box, they went for the more risqué and mysterious “unrated” version. Spooky stuff in there, I hear this is the version “they” don’t want you to see. The version “they” couldn’t show in theaters. “They” use garbage lingo like “unrated” to drive up DVD sales and we buy it. Why, you ask? Because we like “Extreme” Corn Nuts. We want to believe that drinking laboratory-manufactured cola proven to shrink testicles will make us better skateboarders. We’re taught through commercials that eating McDonalds burgers and cancerous fries are the root of all happiness, skinny bodies, clear skin, and shiny hair. While I didn’t mind The Ring Two I certainly don’t recommend you buy it simply because it’s “unrated.”
The Ring Two is entertaining for the two hours that you watch it, but in no way does it have that unsettling quality the really good horror films do, like Blair Witch Project or any of the others where you struggle to let your guard down and fall asleep the night after you first watch it. If anything, take the time and watch The Ring and The Ring Two back to back because the sequel doesn’t retell the story to catch the viewer up on what happened before. If you choose not to watch either of them, that’s okay too. No one is going to come out of the TV to get you.
The disc for The Ring Two is really complete and the only thing I could possibly ask for would be an audio commentary. It’s full of biographies of several of the cast and filmmakers, with pages and pages of information in a more fluid way than just throwing a resume on the disc in a laundry list format. In much the same way, the “Production Notes” are more than a few items of interest to look over. The notes are full of summary of the story, comparison and contrast to the original, quotes from the producers, director, actors, and discussion of everything imaginable from the style of J-horror (Japanese-horror) to the importance and intent to not retell the same story over again for the sequel. By far, even though there was tons of pages of reading for this section, this is my favorite extra on the disc. It’s extremely thorough and in depth about what this movie is, what it stands for, and what its intentions are to transform the American genre that is horror films back to its roots.
But, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So there’s a quaint little section where Walter Parkes, co-producer, introduces a little snippet called Rings. Followed by this is a little film snippet. Someone, somewhere, thought they would take a Blair Witch spin on things and decided that teenagers would like watching Samara’s black and white tape like dropping acid. You watch the tape and then document with a video camera what you see and feel for your seven days until Samara kills you. To top it off, they’ve got a jump man who’s prearranged to watch it after them so they don’t get killed. The point is to see how long you can go before you get freaked out enough to tell your man to watch the next copy and get your neck off the hook. This sucks. It’s not realistic in anyway and the acting looks like a high school play. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the fact that it ties into the beginning of the movie when the tape first resurfaces. Shame on them! That’s ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
The next grouping of stuff, however, is what I really dig on. Interviews, discussions, footage of scenes being filmed, special effects people making Samara look goopy and decayed, and the opportunity to watch the majority of the cast go back to talking in their native accents. These features are “Faces of Fear: The Cast,” “Samara: From Eye to Icon,” “Fear on Film: Special Effects,” and “The Power of Symbols.” Aside from them talking about how good those bad CG deer were, all of these extras are awesome. Even if the movie didn’t translate perfectly into what they were going for, they all had a clear objective in their mind as to what they were doing and what they wanted to gain from it. We know that through this chunk of features. There’s a unity there that in no way resembles Jimmy Fallon’s desperate need for attention or JLo’s bad story choices. All of the people that worked on The Ring Two clearly wanted to be there and do the best job they could for the sake of the story and the characters, not their careers.
Next there’s an “HBO First Look” on the making of the movie which is fairly generic and repeats some of the information we heard in the four previous features, but it’s enough to interest you for those fifteen minutes. And finally, a great collection of deleted scenes, almost twenty minutes of footage giving you small glimpses into a potentially bigger picture. All in all you can see why they were left out, although I wish they had included a few of the scenes. First of all, they cut out a bit of background information for Simon’s Baker’s character and I think that would have helped know his motivation for helping Rachel. Next, they edited away a lot of moments, some of them slow, dragging, silent moments, but moments just the same, where Rachel is more affectionate to her son than you see in the final movie. And finally, the kicker, they took away the scene where she hires a babysitter. That scene alone would have shut me up while I was watching the movie, if I had known the kid was safe at home while Rachel ran all over creation.
While I can’t say the extras make it okay that the film didn’t come across as the best horror sequel, I can say I’d be pretty interested to see the Ringu movies and how related they are. Nakata says in the extras that Ring Two is nothing like Ringu 2 and I think I’d like to know why.