'The Ring Two': Well, Well, By Kurt Loder

We've seen it all before, but at least it delivers some actual shudders.

In the wake of such recent horror duds as "Constantine" and the entirely disposable "Cursed," "The Ring Two" almost seems like a work of fright-flick art. At least it delivers some actual shudders along with the standard genre ridiculosities. My favorite scene, set on a lonely forest road, involves an attack on a car by a herd of heavily antlered deer who are so obviously computer-generated (and so murkily motivated) that they really don't put you in mind of anything more threatening than Bambi in a slightly surly mood. There's also one of those scary basements into which the heroine shouldn't venture, but of course does. (It's filled with antlers!) And there's a frightening but oddly improbable scene that turns out to be — just a dream! Oh, no!

The movie does its job, however. This second American "Ring" film inevitably lacks the unsettling mystery and the evolving unease of the first one. We already know the key story elements (the evil video, the demon-child Samara crawling out of the well), so while there are still startling moments, there are no surprises. Basically, we've seen it all. But "Ring Two" nevertheless hooks you with its bleak, watery mood, and it keeps you fidgeting with dread between cheap but efficient jolts of terror.

Having directed the original 1998 Japanese movie, "Ringu," and its 1999 sequel, "Ringu 2," director Nakata Hideo knows the drill by now. He's steeped in the lore, which has proliferated over the years. The "Ring" story as we know it derives from the 1991 "Ring" novel by Suzuki Koji, and from his 1995 sequel, "Rasen." When it was decided to make a movie of the first book, a sequel based on the second one was also shot and released at the same time. The beautifully made "Ringu" was a huge Asian hit; but "Rasen," with which Nakata Hideo had no involvement, bombed. Thus the speedy re-hiring of Nakata to direct a second sequel, "Ringu 2," before anybody noticed there'd already been a first one. (In addition to these films, there is also a 1999 Korean-Japanese movie called "The Ring Virus," which seems to have few admirers, and "Ring Ø," a Japanese picture released in 2000, with a script by original "Ringu" screenwriter Takahashi Hiroshi, which is a prequel of sorts, focusing on the early life of the girl in the well, who's called Sadako in the Japanese films.)

The producers of the first American "Ring" movie were unable to reenlist its director, Gore Verbinski, so they wound up calling in Nakata Hideo himself to helm the second one. And with lead actors Naomi Watts and David Dorfman back onboard (as newspaper reporter Rachel Keller and her broody son, Aidan), along with screenwriter Ehren Kruger, they cranked up the by-now-well-oiled "Ring" machine and set their sights on a franchise.

Will they succeed? In a world in which people talk seriously of a "Daredevil" sequel, anything is possible. And "The Ring Two" is certainly a serviceable film, however predictably its story has been extended. Having fobbed off Samara's killer videotape on some luckless sucker back in Seattle, Rachel has fled with Aiden to the small town of Astoria, Oregon. However, when a local teen comes to an ugly end at the hands of his VCR, and a suspicious-looking, unlabeled video turns up at a neighborhood lawn sale, Rachel realizes that Samara is still on the prowl — and has her lifeless little eye on Rachel's son.

Like "Ringu," this movie is sleek and gleaming — it's gorgeous to look at. The problems aren't visual. The beginning of the film is too static and talky; one substantial character seems to be on hand solely to facilitate plot developments (and to come to a ghastly end); and another, a psychiatrist played by Elizabeth Perkins, fades out of the proceedings rather too shortly after she's faded in, to no crucial effect either way. It's also distracting to come upon Sissy Spacek, in a black wig, briefly playing Samara's long-institutionalized mother. We naturally flash on the fact that Spacek is a horror icon in her own right — the blood-spattered teen avenger in the 1976 scream classic, "Carrie" — but then we can't help thinking: So?

The picture is also too long, and there's too much of soggy little Samara in it. (There she is in the mirror! There she is in the bathtub! There she is on the damn TV again!) And she's become a lot livelier, too. (Look at her scrabble up the walls of that well!) She wears out her welcome a considerable while before the movie ends. But then, alas, despite its respectable quotient of chills, so does the movie itself.

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