Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rewind, Rewound

I like that it ended up getting the same headline as the first time. It actually is even more approriate for the sequel.
Be Kind, Please Rewind

Samara Morgan first crawled out of TV sets — and into the hearts of American moviegoers — in 2002’s “The Ring.” The video cassette-born villainess apparently spooked audiences enough that her creators have paid heed to the old “be kind, please rewind” axiom and resurrected her for another round of water demon madness. The result: certainly not a swirling vortex of horror, but also not the tepid afterthought sequel it could have been.

“The Ring Two,” which takes place six months after the original, finds investigative reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) fleeing Seattle and relocating to a rural Oregon town. Unfortunately, even Hicksville can’t stop the ghost of an angry, wet little girl who loves her mommy. The film pulls away from the haunted video tape motif of the first film — at one point, Rachel actually burns one of the tapes in a symbolic destruction of that motif — and focuses instead on Samara’s efforts to become reincarnated through Rachel’s son, Aidan (David Dorfman). If you thought Aidan was creepy in the first film, Samara-in-Aidan will motivate you to double-check your birth control.

Hideo Nakata, director of the original Japanese “Ringu,” helmed the picture, but his visual style so closely matches that of Gore Verbinski, director of the first film, that “The Ring” and “The Ring Two” feel like a matching set. Each scene recalls the cold, crisp, Andrew Wyethesque beauty of the first film perfectly.

The script, however, departs so radically that “The Ring Two” feels lacking in its depiction of the post-Samara world. Her gradual possession of Aidan allows her to pop up whenever she wants — or whenever Nakata wants to make his audience jump — but violates the rule established in the first film: Samara comes to kill you only when your seven days are up. Furthermore, one would imagine copies of the cursed videotape are slowly spreading across the nation like some urban legend plague, yet the film only glimpses this deadly phenomenon in the opening 10 minutes. Instead, “The Ring Two” offers flashy shots of Samara’s developing supernatural powers, which manifest in good CGI that unfortunately looks like good CGI and not the real-life water magic it’s supposed to.

Like in the original, Watts’ spot-on performance raises the film above the B-grade horror fare it might be in another actress’ hands. And even minor characters are nicely acted by a strong supporting cast and cameos by Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins and — in an act of drop-dead perfect stunt casting, Sissy Spacek as Samara’s batty biological mother.

Also like its predecessor, this ghost story has only garnered a PG-13 rating. For a horror film, it’s remarkably bloodless. The true horror lies more in the disturbing theme of mothers drowning their own children, which seems especially unnerving since actual incidents of bathtub infanticide have occurred within recent memory.

“Fear comes full circle,” proclaims the tagline for “The Ring Two.” In a sense, this is true: the film is satisfying enough that it won’t anger fans of the original. One can only hope that the people who have twice unleashed Samara upon the world can finally put her to death, lest the cycle of sequels drain all the life out of the original.

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