In the thriving horror subgenre of Wet Female Ghosts, the 2002 film The Ring stands head and shoulders above The Gift, What Lies Beneath, and Gothika. While it’s true that the revenants in these other movies are just as chalk-skinned, damp, and angry, The Ring had an original premise. Not content with occasionally popping out of the scenery like a jack-in-the-box, The Ring’s Wet Female Ghost, Samara, was the implacably malevolent phantom of a murdered child who had somehow created and circulated a videotape that caused those who viewed it to die from fright. Perhaps because it was a remake of a popular Japanese horror film, it also had a plot with twists and turns that confounded the conventions of American horror. The result was an unpredictable, genuinely scary movie.
In The Ring Two, the heroine of the first film, Rachel (Naomi Watts), and her self-possessed little boy, Aidan (David Dorfman), have moved away from Seattle to the peaceful small town of Astoria. It quickly becomes apparent that undead little girls with frustrated artistic ambitions are not escaped merely by packing up a car and moving a few miles away. The moist Samara, outraged that the distribution of her indie short has been endangered by Rachel, abandons filmmaking and targets the already hollow-eyed Aidan with nightmares and hypothermia, sending Rachel galloping off on yet another quest for answers.
There are some frightening moments, but ultimately everything that made the first film compelling is absent. The videotape with its unsettling imagery is disposed of early on, in a clunky, perfunctory sequence involving two more teenagers alone in a house with the VCR. The outcome is predictable to anyone familiar with the first film, or to anyone who’s even heard about the first film. Rachel’s selfishness and obtuseness, which gave the The Ring a weird verisimilitude and made its downbeat ending logical, is now little more than the garden variety dumbness of a horror film lead who, when told by her terrified, verifiably psychic son to keep driving along on a lonely country road, tries to talk to him about it instead of stepping on the gas. (Members of the audience at a San Francisco screening actually began shouting angrily at the screen during this scene.) Instead of the badly flawed parent of the first film, here Rachel is just another misunderstood but ultimately heroic movie mom.
Worst of all, the mystery of Samara is effectively diluted. Where in the first film her motivations were so alien that it was dangerous to even attempt to understand them, it quickly becomes obvious in The Ring Two that she wants the same thing a hundred other movie ghosts have wanted. Maybe it’s too much to ask for a similar level of freshness and unpredictability in a sequel. It should not be too much to ask that the filmmakers retain what made the first film a success. To anyone unfamiliar with the first movie, The Ring Two is a mediocre horror film with gaping logical holes and some good imagery. To those who saw and enjoyed the first one, it’s a bitter disappointment.