The Ring is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It was a decidedly modern twist on an old horror trope: after viewing a weird black-and-white video tape, the viewer receives a phone call explaining he will die seven days later.
What made the Ring so enthralling is that what could have been a cheesy horror movie became an exploration of psychological terror. Instead of just treating the bizarre tape as a typical horror film foil, the protagonist (Rachel Keller, played by the lovely Naomi Watts) uses all her journalist skills to get to the bottom of the mystery. She investigates the background of tape, has it analyzed and basically does everything a logical adult would do when faced with what's basically a killer tape. Rachel discovers that the tape is actually the psychic death knell of a demonic little girl named Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) who longs to escape her physical and spiritual imprisonment at the bottom of a well.
In a rare twist, the more Rachel poked at the tape's mysterious origins, the weirder things got. More importantly, the film kept relentless pace with the tape's countdown of seven days. All of the scares were achieved without blood; water and wet hair have never been so horrifying. When we finally do see Samara crawl out of the television, it's to the film's credit that her appearance is as horrifying as we imagined. At the end of the film, Rachel discovered that her son Aiden (David Dorfman) had watched the tape and that the only way to save herself and the life of her son was by making a copy.
No happy ending. Rachel passed the horrible curse on to someone else. And that was the end of the film. Daring, innovative, and just plain creepy, The Ring made you want to move your TV out of your bedroom. Viewers haven't felt that way since Poltergeist.
Then we have Ring Two.
Studios are beginning to encounter a real conundrum in moviemaking. The Ring had a multitude of web sites supporting it that expanded upon the mythology in the movie, including one on the Moesko Island Lighthouse, whatscaresme, anopenletter, and sevendaystolive. Most of them have since been taken down, but they can all be found with the help of the Wayback Machine (look it up). With the advent of the Blair Witch Project, fans expect a supporting mythology and use it to flesh out the rest of the film's backstory.
All these web sites add up to a lot of detail about what happened to create this monstrous ghost known as Samara. With all this backstory, you would expect the filmmakers to further explore the questions around Samara's birth and death. We know only that Samara's mother, Anna, was incapable of having a child of her own and so she left for Europe, only to return with a child who "never sleeps." Samara's psychic abilities were evil…so evil that eventually Anna felt she had to kill her.
But that's not the story we're told in Ring Two. In fact, Ring Two seems to be hell bent on ignoring the rules that were set up in the first movie. We never see the tape again, although a brief introduction explains what happens if you don't make a copy of it. When that copy shows up in a new town that Rachel moved Aidan to, she burns the tape. And that releases Samara. Mind you, Rachel burned the tape in the first film and Samara was not released.
Samara then decides that she's going to live the life she always wanted, with a mommy and everything. Since Rachel and her son don't exactly have a close relationship (he always calls her "Rachel"), Aidan's possession by Samara takes on a kind of cheerful creepiness. Where Aidan is cold and distant, Samara is clingy and demanding. To Dorfman's credit, the child actor does a suitable job of switching between the two personality types.
Rachel searches for a solution to defeating Samara, only to suddenly stumble upon Samara's real mother (Evelyn, played for five minutes by Sissy Spacek). This fact somehow eluded Rachel in the first movie but is easily discovered in the sequel. Evelyn doesn't provide much insight anyway other than that, "Samara is listening…except when you're asleep."
It seems Aidan has psychic powers too and when he's not possessed by Samara, with a body temperature below 95 degrees, he can communicate with his mother. This bizarre plot device gives Rachel an advantage and she soon discovers that Samara's weakness is water. Which is odd, since that was never mentioned in the first film.
Along the way, there's a particularly creepy scene involving deer that is the high point of the film. Some reviewers have questioned the relevance of the scene, but in a rare nod to the original movie, animals can sense Samara and either run away from her or try to destroy her. In this film it's the latter. Unfortunately, the deer are entirely CGI (they couldn't digitally insert deer into the film?) and it's very obvious.
There's a glimpse of the original film in the finale, where Rachel gets sucked into the well and races to escape the weird, spider-like Samara. It's completely ruined by Rachel's catchphrase, "I'm not your F***ING MOTHER!"
And that's what's wrong with Ring Two. It's not a bad horror film, but it's not of the same quality of the first movie. Characters are introduced with the obvious purpose of killing them off, horrible deaths are telegraphed way in advance, and the heroine turns from a tortured, conflicted soul to a rock-climbing, foul-mouthed superhero straight out of Aliens and Terminator.
With none of the pacing, none of the innovation, and very little of the original plot, Ring Two is torn between staying true to the original and appealing to a general audience. In attempting to generalize the fear and horror, the film loses the spirit (forgive the pun) of what made the first movie so appealing.
Oh yeah. If a ghost popped out of your television, wouldn't YOU get rid of every TV in your house?