This week's multi-million dollar question: Does evil ever really give up the ghost and slink away quietly into the night? If you're living in the world occupied by journalist Rachel Keller and her young son Aidan, the answer would be a big, fat no. Evil, my dears, will always find you, no matter what small town in Washington state you move to, no matter what mundane job you take with the hometown newspaper, no matter where you park your car. And that evil will take the form of (pick one -- or all three!) a videotape on which Blockbuster late fees do not apply; the stubborn spirit of a waterlogged girl named Samara; or a herd of extremely agitated deer with big dangerous antlers.
All because evil is a box office draw.
Hence The Ring Two.
In The Ring, Rachel solved the horrible mystery of a "killer" videotape, saving her own life as well as Aidan's. Six months later the murderous Samara has emerged from the well into which she was dumped by her adopted mother, this time taking possession of Aidan. "She wants to be him," utters Rachel, having the kind of revelation that in cartoons is generally accompanied by a light bulb appearing above one's head.
Apparently Samara feels unloved. After all those years floating in that watery grave, she wants a mommy and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (hold the crust) and some quality TV time watching vintage cartoons.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, 2002's The Ring was a creepy, atmospheric chiller, featuring a fine mixture of low-grade intensity and over-the-top jolts. It spooked you, gave you the heebie-jeebies, made you burn every unmarked VHS tape in your home.
For the inevitable sequel, the producers flew in director Hideo Nakata, who helmed Ringu, the original Japanese film on which The Ring was based. They gave him a hefty budget and said "Do whatever the hell you want, we're going out for Mimosas." There's no denying Nakata has a gift for creating terror out of essentially nothing. And there are a few sequences in Ring Two that are intensely scary. But they amount to about six minutes out of a total one hundred eleven. The rest of the time the narrative settles into a kind of dull, nonsensical stupor, winding up with Rachel once again at the bottom of Samara's well.
Nakata abandons the very thing that made the first Ring so unnerving -- the tape itself. It's destroyed early in Ring Two and the movie changes course, running headlong into demonic possession land. While I don't blame Nakata for not wanting to rehash previous works, part of what made The Ring so tense was Rachel's urgent race against that seven-day clock.
This time, Rachel's merely faced with the chore of extricating Samara from her son's body, which she could do at a leisurely pace if she wanted to. And why not? From what I could tell, Samara would be a much more interesting child to hang with than Aidan, who has the engaging personality of a cardboard box. Make that the lid of a cardboard box.
But you know how stubborn mothers can be. So Rachel pulls out the movie playbook and employs a switcheroo known as "The Karras Gambit," introduced over 30 years ago in The Exorcist.
Every so often Nakata throws in a Samara-induced murder. Poor Elizabeth Perkins, playing a frosty psychiatrist, is compelled to use a hypodermic in a manner for which it's clearly not intended. A few other unfortunates, meanwhile, end up dead, their faces permanently twisted into an elongated scream of terror.
Clearly having nothing better to do with her career, Naomi Watts reprises the role of Rachel, but her performance in Ring Two is of such low wattage it hardly registers. Grim-faced, raccoon-eyed David Dorfman returns as Aidan, and does as good a job as any child actor could do under these circumstances. The most interesting shred of acting comes from Sissy Spacek as an institutionalized woman who holds the key to the film's big mystery -- a mystery that remains puzzling even after it's solved.
"Listen to your baby," she says to Rachel, her voice pitched at a frantic shriek, her eyes crazy-wild. You're just waiting for blood to dump from above. She also whispers to Rachel, in an accusatory manner, "You let the dead get in." Hey, lady, thanks for that. Any ideas on how to show them the door?
Actually, show them the bathtub is more like it. Much of The Ring Two is centered around water. Water, water everywhere. So much water, in fact, you could fill 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And this isn't your everyday water -- it's water that defies the powers of gravity. It's water that threatens to ruin your upholstery. It's scary water. Yeah, well, water's water. And this water -- and this Ring -- is pure torture.