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Ring II, The

dir: Hideo Nakata
[img_assist|nid=1213|title=Stay down the well until you learn how to comb your hair properly|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=289]
The onslaught of Japanese horror remakes marches inexorably on. Strictly speaking this is a sequel to a remake, but there’s a Japanese Ringu 2, and it was directed by the same guy that directed this, but it’s a different story (kinda) and, oh fuck it, it’s making my head hurt already. Look, it’s a sequel to the Hollywood Ring film, that’s all you need to know at this stage. It has nothing to do with the Lord of the Rings movies, The Ringmaster, Postman Always Rings Twice, Ring of Fire, Ring King, Ring Ring, or Ring-a-Ding Ding. So don’t be too disappointed.

This nasty little ghost story has come a long way from its modest origins as a schlocky novel by Koji Suzuki. The original Ring managed to be creepy and somewhat fairly entertaining. It represents the starting point for the wholesale adoption of these flicks as the new face of cinematic horror, with highly variable results. Of the recent sequence, Ring, Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water have been remade, with Dark Water yet to be vomited upon cinema screens yet. Presumably The Grudge will get its sequel. It seems there’s a little way to go before people get thoroughly sick of this crap and move onto the next place to plunder “Ooh, look, Mongolian films are the next big thing. Let the milking commence!”

I’m a bit unimpressed about it all. They’re minor Japanese efforts in the first place, and remaking these obtuse and only weakly scary genre efforts are increasingly paying off fewer dividends. Surely horror audiences are getting desensitised (read: bored) with the ‘surprise’ of mildly spooky black eyed ghost children, long haired girls or cats appearing in mirrors or whenever someone looks over their shoulder a second time. Nakata’s films contain all the same elements, so surely we’re essentially getting the same thing served up a few different ways.

Takashi Shimizu made both the original Ju-on and the Hollywood version of The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar. They’re the same. Virtually indistinguishable and equally pointless, for my money. What creeps me out for fifteen minutes fails to creep me out further if all the rest of a film does is introduce more uni-dimensional characters as angry ghost fodder. There’s nothing in these that wasn’t in Ring, so whilst I find their very existence interesting I don’t really care that much about them and am unlikely to ever bother watching them again.

Of all these films, their remakes and their permutations, it’s the original Ring that I like, nay, love the most. The others just rode on a wave and kept rehashing so many elements that they lost the people who they wanted to entice. Ring did scare me, even with its tv production values. I still remember how creeped out I felt from every scene, how uncomfortable the use of sound made me feel, and how horrified I was by something Sadako, the film’s antagonist, does towards the end of the film. Sadako still makes me uneasy when I think of her, even now.

The American remake of Ring had Gore Verbinski at the helm, and whilst it was a competent remake, it lacked the same visceral uneasiness of the original. It made up for it with some decent performances, excellent production values with some truly beautiful imagery and by having the courage to stick to the decidedly un-American storyline.

Gore Verbinski, which is such a cool name, went on to direct Pirates of the Caribbean, and will be making Pirates sequels until he goes to his grave, so they had to get another director to have a go at the sequel to The Ring. It was a stroke of genius presumably to get the original director to direct this, though it’s giving me brain cramps trying to explain it all.

Hideo Nakata now makes the sequel to the American version, with little to do with his Japanese sequel apart from the essential story, and whilst mediocre it is still of interest to me. In the American versions Sadako is named Samara, but she is still the vengeful, angry ghost hungering for vengeance upon all the world.

There are three essential aspects to this story and the construct in which they occur within: there is this animist, supernatural perception of water as having a potential malevolence to it; there is the notion that our emotions can have a power that can physically impact upon the world or linger long after death, and that much of the source of all this ‘evil’ is family dysfunction. It can’t be a coincidence that all the adult main characters in Hideo Nakata’s films are all dealing with divorce. Through this both of the sequels (and especially Dark Water) come down to the idea of selfish parents eventually realising the need to sacrifice themselves for their children’s sake.

Read that way you’d think these flicks are moralistic lectures on parental responsibility and other dull stuff society forces us to absorb. And maybe they are, because the scares, visual attacks on your eyeballs and feelings of dread that you could reasonably expect to make the other stuff palatable is pretty much absent.

Naomi Watts plays the character of Rachel completely seriously, and she has to, because any lightening up would make the flick seem like a parody. She’s as good as she usually is, but it’s kind of a waste. She’s done great work in stuff like Mulholland Drive and 21 Grams, so this should be pretty easy for her. She runs the full gamut of emotion in The Ring Two from concerned to really freaked out and concerned. She is the film’s main and pretty much only character of note other than the dreaded Samara.

Her son Aiden is played by a creepy looking actor called David Dorfman. He looks like a hillbilly child with the accelerated aging disease called progeria. He has this wasted look to his face, and these deep circles under his eyes which make him look like he’s been up for three nights straight necking from a bottle of whisky and snorting lines off the back of presumably a midget hooker. He’s perfectly cast just for his strange head alone.

It doesn’t matter who plays Samara, since she is an image most of the time, and computer generated as well. She is the story’s Big Bad, however, and as Big Bad’s go, she’s very icky.

The hook of the plot that links back to the original is the idea of a strange video tape that would lead to people dying 7 days after watching it with an expression of unholy terror on their faces. The tapes play little part in this movie apart from right at the beginning. But the aesthetics of video tape as a medium are used throughout the film, in a subtle way mostly, but there are little deliberate ‘flaws’ at certain points and scenes to make the images on the screen almost look as if they’re on tape. It’s used especially at the end, which adds a certain feeling of unreality, on top of the unreality that you get with a ghost film anyway.

These Japanese ghosts films don’t have a linear logic to what happens in their plots or to their characters, which is both a blessing and a curse. Nakata continues with that kind of thinking here as well. It sounds like a cop out to say that, since in other films it would make the audience shake their heads in disgust and spit tobacco juice out of the left side of their mouths in protest. The original Ring set itself up as if there was going to be a logical way that Fate could be avoided, and then it revealed that thinking like that was reserved for the living and didn’t apply to the malevolent dead. Thus searching for some kind of rational way for this story to proceed is kind of pointless. The only logic used is dream logic, which isn’t logical at all.

That’s part of the attraction of horror stories in the first place, but then you run the risk of alienating the audience if you make it too literal or if shit happens simply because you want it to. The film tries to play the balancing game of having it make sense but then over-explains some elements whilst leaving others purely abstract.

After the events of the first film Rachel and Aiden flee to a sleepy seaside town hoping to put the horror of Samara and poor quality video tapes behind them. But a tape turns up in the hick town of Astoria, and Samara has a new objective. So Rachel tries to protect her son from Samara and angry reindeer as best she can whilst delving deeper into Samara’s past to find a way to beat her once and for all.

That reference to reindeer isn’t a mistake: our main characters get attacked by CGI reindeer for no reason that I can work out apart from a Hollywood studio executive saying to Hideo Nakata, “Look, konnichiwa and all that, we love your work and think you’re just the greatest director working today, but we think this stretch of the film here is too boring. We asked a group of mental midgets what they found terrifying and we came up with reindeers. Reindeers! They tested through the roof! They’ll never see it coming, and, oh, put reindeer into the film here, here and here or the next film you’ll be directing will star Madonna and Will Smith. Domo arigato!”

Maybe the film doesn’t work overall, but I wasn’t completely bored, and there were several worthy scenes of note. The opening scene in the film is pretty good, but I really liked the manner in which some water trickling around a boy’s feet formed into the image of a screaming face.

Later on there is a part where someone is in a bath where water is overflowing but it is going anywhere except near the person in the bath. It’s hard to explain but it works really well.

The faces of people who have met their fate at Samara’s hands still look horrific, but lack the abject and straightforward shock value of the faces in the original. Still, they’re pretty quease-inducing. As the story inevitably has to, there is a return to the well, an actual stone well from whence Samara came, and watching her climb up the wall of that well, was, well, pretty scary. She looks so evil and wrong. Like Cher, only not so evil.

There are interesting elements at play in the film in terms of the mother / child dynamic, and the way in which other peripheral characters start suspecting that Rachel is a lunatic who is abusing her son. Of course we know that it’s Samara, but it’s funny that the story rests on Rachel having to do certain things which would make Child Services turn the kid into a ward of the state quicker that you can say “I’m not you’re fucking mommy”.

There are hints about Rachel perhaps not being the best mother in the world which extend back to the first film that are followed up here, and which were essential elements in Dark Water as well: the notion that parental selfishness puts children at risk of, um, ghosts, and that a necessary part of being a shining example of a parent is by sacrificing oneself for one’s kids, metaphorically and literally. This leads to an ending which doesn’t really make any sense, but does give some of that closure that Americans seem to crave so much. It goes back to that idea of dream logic that I was bandying about as a rationalisation before.

Overall, it’s not awful, but it’s not essential viewing either. Fans of the first (US) one might enjoy it, but it’s more than likely that they’ll be bored or irritated by it. So that basically leaves no-one else to recommend it to. No-one! In the whole wide world, which is a shame. Mostly what the film lacks is the consistent atmosphere of unease and dread of the first. Without that it’s just another entry into the Pointless Sequel Hall of Shame.

It will be interesting to see if they make a third Ring film (doubtful), or possibly a remake of Ring 0: Birthday, which looked at Sadako’s life when she was alive and not floating in a well, though it’s unlikely. They wouldn’t have an excuse for Naomi Watts to be in it either, and that’s no drawcard.

I crave good horror films, but they’re so few and far between. I’ll have to keep on waiting, and so will you.

4 times you’ll keep your pants completely dry out of 10

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‘You let the dead get in’ – The Ring Two

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