Dir. Hideo Nakata, 2005, USA, 111 minutes
Cast: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Baker, Sissy Spacek
Following Hideo Nakata's revolutionary 1998 film the Ringu saga already has a prolific and inconsistent franchise to its name. There was Nakata's own sequel, Norio Tsuruta's prequel, Joji Iida's The Spiral (based on Koji Suzuki's sequel to the first Ringu novel), a Japanese TV series and finally Gore Verbinski's 2002 re-make. To confuse matters further, The Ring Two is directed by Nakata (although is not a re-make of his own Ringu 2) in what is either a valiant effort to reclaim his franchise from Hollywood 's clutches or a welcome submission to superior production values.
After solving the riddle of a cursed videotape, haunted by longhaired ghost Samara, and saving the life of her son Aidan (Dorfman), journalist Rachel Keller (Watts) has relocated to a small town and a less hectic lifestyle. However, she soon realises that Samara is still around and this time Rachel and her son are her prime targets.
Watts is as convincing as ever as the concerned mother and Dorfman gives an impressive performance as the possessed child, although does not seem able to switch back when he is supposed to be playing it straight. Despite the American/Australian cast the film has Nakata's eerie visual style stamped onto every scene and feels more like a sequel to his Japanese version than to Verbinski's re-make. Unlike Takashi Shimizu's carbon-copy re-make of The Grudge, Nakata uses the opportunity to expand on his earlier work, although the results are not always effective.
The first ten minutes of The Ring Two in which a teenager forces his girlfriend to watch the cursed tape are as frightening and disturbing as those in Nakata's original. Despite its constant re-interpretation the haunted tape remains one of the more contemporary horrors of recent years and here Nakata pushes it to its limit. Unfortunately this nod to the mythology marks the last we see of the tape as Samara moves on to terrorising Keller and her son in the real world. In doing so a rather simple premise is stretched to breaking point as Samara is no longer bound by any narrative rules - she can appear whenever she wants, possess anything from tap water to a herd of unconvincing CGI deer and, if she feels like it, casually kill someone in the method previously reserved for those who watched the tape. With such an eclectic mix of scares the film becomes a compilation of horror's finest moments - one minute there's a scene from The Omen , then another from The Exorcist and even the odd reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street - culminating in a cameo from Sissy Spacek which comes across as Carrie all grown up.
Perhaps more distracting are the remixes of Nakata's own signature scenes with much of the film appearing to be a re-working of his 2002 film Dark Water, itself already re-made and scheduled for release later this year. Only in the final scenes of the film, when we return to the well where Samara fell to her death, do we experience anything like the disturbing atmosphere of the opening sequence, but by this time it serves only as a reminder that we will see nothing new here.
Suzuki's 1991 novel ended with main character Asakawa's realisation that in saving his family he had unleashed a deadly curse on the rest of the world. While this domination of the spirit world has featured in other Japanese horror films (in the deserted Tokyo streets at the end of The Grudge and, more prominently, in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's apocalyptic ghost story Kairo ) it is ironic that both of Nakata's sequels have ignored the logical arc of the story, despite the obvious parallels in the global influence of Japanese horror cinema. While Ringu is indeed spreading its curse through Americanised copies it is apparent that with each generation it loses more of its atmospheric quality. At the rate Hollywood is re-making and re-working these stories the originals are already becoming a collective urban myth - the legend of the last horror films to ever truly scare us.