THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Ring - released in 2002 – remains one of the best horror films of recent times. Based on a popular Japanese movie called Ringu, it told the tale of a mysterious videotape that killed anyone who watched it exactly seven days later. A reporter investigating the tape discovers that the key to saving oneself is to make a copy and show it to someone else, thereby spreading the evil. While The Ring was filled with eerie moments, it was the final scene that proved to be the most ominously chilling: the reporter helps her young son (who also watched it) make a copy. “What will happen to the person who watches this?” he asks. In Japan, Ringu spawned several sequels, and the American remake has spawned one as well. The Ring Two has even been directed by Hideo Nakata, who directed the Japanese original.

How’s this for an opener? A teenage boy – potentially in his final minutes of life – pressures his date to watch the cursed video. When the unsuspecting girl hedges, he desperately screams at her to put the tape into the machine. All the while, he carefully watches a nearby digital clock, hoping she presses play before it’s too late. What happens next should not be revealed here, but the scene builds tension to an unexpected payoff.

In the main plot, Naomi Watts returns as reporter Rachel Keller. She has packed up her son Aidan (David Dorfman) and moved to the small town of Astoria, Oregon. For several months they have lived peacefully, but when Rachel hears of a mysterious local death (one of the two teens mentioned above), she knows that her nightmare has not ended. Samara, the little dead girl who created the horrific videotape, is still hanging around. (Minor Spoiler Alert! If you don’t want to know what happens, skip to the next paragraph now.) Samara is specifically targeting Aidan, whom she finds and possesses. Once Rachel realizes this, she must find a way to get rid of Samara once and for all without harming her son. The search for answers leads her to some surprising places; by investigating Samara’s background, Rachel uncovers the girl’s birth mother, Evelyn (Sissy Spacek in a fantastic cameo). What Evelyn tells her leads to a shocking realization about Samara’s desire to unleash evil, as well as her reasons for possessing Aidan.

The Ring Two definitely has intense moments, as well as some nifty set pieces of horror. The scene in which a herd of deer attack Rachel’s car is particularly unsettling. That said, the movie is not as freaky as the original, perhaps because the emphasis is off the videotape. My friend and Gamut! Magazine colleague Chris Wagner correctly points out that The Ring mythologized the tape; there was suspense in waiting to find out where the tape would end up and who would watch it. On top of that, you had Rachel’s mesmerizing investigation, which uncovered the significance of each disturbing image the tape contained. In contrast to this approach, The Ring Two has a more conventional demon-is-out-there-coming-to-get-us plot structure. It doesn’t give you that exhilarating sense of seeing something you’ve never seen before. The film absolutely has all the requisite fright scenes - most of which are effective – but they don’t quite generate the same nervous sense of dread.

Although I like the original slightly more, I still like the sequel – albeit for slightly different reasons. In a wise move, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who penned both films) continues the story instead of simply re-hashing it. In the previous movie, Rachel inadvertently let Samara out of the well in which she was trapped; therefore, it makes sense that the sequel centers on Rachel’s attempt to shove her back in. There’s also the question of how to kill an evil spirit that’s technically already dead. Evelyn gives Rachel an important piece of advice, but the implications of carrying it out are almost too terrible to think about. I liked how the movie allowed time to examine Rachel’s moral dilemma. The psychology behind Samara’s relentless attacks is also compelling. Based on the original film, I thought I knew why the little girl came back from the grave to kill. The sequel provides an unexpected motive. How many horror movies actually take the time to make their villain into a fully developed character? Not many, but this one does.

Another selling point is the performance from Naomi Watts, who has quickly become my favorite actress. After making a splash in David Lynch’s hypnotic Mulholland Drive, Watts turned in superior – and diverse – performances in films like 21 Grams and I Heart Huckabees. The character of Rachel Keller could have faded into the background amidst all the horror imagery, but Watts provides a crucial emotional center. We aren’t just watching a thriller; we’re watching a woman’s emotional journey through supernatural circumstances.

The Ring Two probably isn’t going to change the minds of people who didn’t like the original. It will most likely please the fans, though. Much to the dismay of my wife (who still hasn’t forgiven me for dragging her to a press screening of the first one), I have something of a Ring fixation. There aren’t many horror pictures that are so inventive and freaky. The sequel takes the situations, characters, and images that I loved from the original and builds upon them. A tiny bit of that freakiness might get lost along the way, but the pros outweigh the cons. The Ring Two satisfied my craving for more of the twisted story of Rachel and Samara.

( out of four)

The Ring Two is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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