In the course of just two films, Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), the tortured, fearsome villain of “The Ring,” has become the stuff of dreams (or nightmares) for adolescent American horror fans. Samara is a sort of postmodern Freddy Kruger whose mere screen presence elicits overjoyed shrieks from audiences, and her freaky exploits continue in “The Ring Two,” a surprisingly competent sequel to the 2002 hit that is just about as entertaining as it is forgettable.
This time around, overworked Seattle reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts, “21 Grams”) and her aloof son Aidan (David Dorfman, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) relocate to a quiet, coastal Oregon town. They hope to start their lives over after their first encounter with Samara, the little girl from the first film who was left in a well by her stepmother and whose videotape mysteriously kills viewers seven days after watching it. But it’s not long before she finds them again, apparently pissed off that Rachel has destroyed one of her now infamous death tapes.
From there, the story goes in a markedly different direction than that of the first film, moving into a bizarre tale of possession that takes heavy cues from “The Exorcist.” Namely, it seems that Samara no longer wants to kill Aidan, but rather become him. It’s easy to identify the scenes where she has possessed him because of the film’s clever play on words: Aidan refers to his mother as “Rachel,” and so when he starts calling her “mommy,” you know that shit’s about to hit the fan. The bulk of the remaining plot is spent on dead-end subplots involving Samara’s ever-expanding history and the often unintentionally funny misadventures of a demonic Aidan, whose wide-eyed glances alone elevate the creepy-little-kid factor tenfold.
Like the first film, itself a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror phenomenon “Ringu,” “The Ring Two’s” biggest strength lies in its accomplished production work. Propelled by strong performances from its leads, a moody, mesmerizing soundtrack and superior photography, it is among the more skillfully stylized and executed instances of gothic horror in recent years. The movie also follows an increasing trend in Hollywood, as it is not only a remake of a foreign horror flick but also retains the director of the Japanese original, Hideo Nakata (“The Grudge”), a wise move that brings a nuanced visual flair to an already stylistically impressive film.
As with the first film, however, the feeble-minded screenplay by Ehren Kruger (“Scream 3”) strains much of the movie’s technical credibility. Far more disturbing than any of its horror elements, the film manipulates each of its mother-child relationships into murderous lunacy before completely shifting gears in the dénouement in favor of superficial closure. And while “The Ring” largely suffered from its tireless 25th-hour plot explanations and revelations, “The Ring Two” is a more unrealized narrative that leaves many of its story aspects conspicuously unresolved, such as: Is Samara really the result of some kind of satanic virgin birth?
Though these questions and others linger when the credits begin to roll, “The Ring Two” is a sufficiently satisfying sequel that is probably more spooky than it is actually frightening but nevertheless functions precisely as it was intended with only minimal snags along the way. That said, an aspect of the series that is commonly left unexplored is that of the horrific, deadly VHS tape emerging conveniently in 1998 — on the brink of DVD’s emergence in popular culture. A silly observation, perhaps, but it wouldn’t be the first time the horror genre was used as social allegory. And now that home video is all but dead, maybe in “The Ring Three” Samara will finally find it prudent to release a round of her death tapes on DVD.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5