As a rule, sequels are terrible. And "The Ring Two" is not so much terrible as it is ordinary. It's graced with an outstanding performance by Naomi Watts and some truly creepy scenes, but it lacks the visceral direction of the first movie. In short, it's a sequel.
As the story opens, we see a slimy-looking boy tricking his girlfriend into watching (drumroll please) The Tape (anyone who saw the short film "Rings" will see the backdrop). As we know from "The Ring," if you get someone else doomed by the tape, you get to live and they die. But things don't turn out so well for the boy. Meanwhile, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) is fleeing to a rural town with her son Aidan (David Dorfman). They thought they had managed to destroy the evil Samara's curse, but of course they were wrong.
And no sooner have they settled down, than Rachel finds signs of Samara's presence. A young boy has died inexplicably, left with a hideous facial deformity. When Rachel confirms that it was Samara who killed him, she finds that Samara is now targeting Aidan's. In a nutshell, she wants to possess him. Now Rachel must delve into Samara's past to find a possible way to stop him -- or risk losing her son to Samara.
"The Ring" revamped the modern horror genre, casting aside CGI ghosts and machete-wielding wackos in favor of subtle horror and demon-children. Not to mention getting Hollywood interested in Japanese horror movies. In short, it was a horror hit that deserved to be one. But "The Ring Two" is merely adequate, not really good.
Maybe the biggest problem of "The Ring Two" is that it has no bedrock to stand on. Author Koji Suzuki wrote a sequel called "Spiral," which was then adapted into the movie "Rasen." But "The Ring Two" has no such grounding. It's just a free-floating Hollywood sequel, to a movie which was remake of a Japanese movie adapted from a book. Given those stats, it's amazing that it's as good as it is.
Director Hideo Nakata, of the Japanese "Ringu" films, was brought in to replace Gore Verbinski. But while he does a competant job, the film lacks the quick cuts, fast-forwarding and sense of pervasive horror. Instead, we get water on the ceiling -- pretty and moderately creepy, but very obvious. The laughable deer attack was just random, especially as Samara has no connection with deer. And Samara's occasional "boo!" appearances take away from her creepiness -- whatever happened to "less is more"?
Not to say that there is no creepiness and no subtlety. Samara alone accounts for much of them -- she slinks around like a less deteriorated version of Gollum, and seeks a "mommy." Nakata does a good job with the odd symbolism injected into the film, such as the ever-present water all over the place. (Interestingly, Nakata also directed the Japanese adaptation of Suzuki's "Dark Water." A bit of seepage?)
Samara aside, much of the creepiness comes from Naomi Watts' performance -- as in the first "Ring" movie, she exudes a taut, quietly frantic demeanor, while keeping herself focused. She gives what is undoubtedly the best performance here. Sissy Spacek gives a solid if brief performance as Samara's birth mother, but Dorfman is pallid as Watts' son.
It quite obviously is leaving the way open for "Ring Three," which is either a thrill or a chill. Taken alone, "The Ring Two" isn't a bad movie, but it suffers badly when set next to its predecessor.