Saturday, March 19, 2005

REVIEW: The Ring Two

Warning: Review will be relatively spoiler-free, but some may slip in here and there. You have been warned.

Whatever else it may be, "The Ring Two" is an invaluable case-study for film critics and those who aspire to be; it's a chance to hone our skills on one of the oldest and most stubborn problems in regard to the critique of any work on narrative storytelling: Just how connected IS a film's overall effectiveness to it's effectiveness within the confines of it's genre?

The film is a singularly strange animal: It's direction, production, pacing and editing are all fine. It's story is interesting and engaging, competently fulfilling the good-sequel mission of taking the material in a new direction while expanding our understanding of the mythology and backstory. The actors are all doing solid, competent work and the screenplay is solidly-structured. Judged on THOSE merits, i.e. the raw-basics of narrative cinema, "The Ring Two" is a solid entry.

The trouble is, "The Ring Two" is not only concieved as a work of narrative drama. It's also a Horror Movie, and yet it is not even the tiniest bit scary. So, then, how does one deal with this? Has the film failed at one mission but suceeded at another and, if so, does it's failure to be scary negate it's "success" at telling it's actual story?

The sequel takes place some time after the events of "The Ring." To recap: The original film focused on an anonymous haunted video-tape, a kind of urban legend come to life. Anyone who watches the surrealistic imagery recorded therein (it's look like a two-minute Naya Deren film) becomes cursed, charged to die within a week's time unless they show it to someone else (who must then show it to someone else, and so-on and so-forth.) The tape has been manifested by Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost of a little girl who was (apparently) shunned and eventually drowned in a well by her parents, who believed the child's latent (demonic?) telekinetic powers were responsible for the mass-deaths plauging their horse farm's livestock.

All of this mystery was uncovered and solved by lady reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her young son Aidan, but the film climaxed with a delightfully cruel twist: After a whole 3rd-act's worth of playing brilliantly to the audience's expectations that child-ghosts are "always" misunderstood abuse-victims who just want someone to get them some justice, Samara is revealed to seemingly actually be the homocidal lil' hellspawn her parents thought she was, and the cursed-videos are little more than her outlet to continue her wicked ways from beyond.

The sequel picks up with Rachel and Aidan having fled Seattle for a little seaside community, believing that by passing the curse on through a copy of the tape they have made an infernal bargain for peace with Samara. Rachel has, apparently, never read a Stephen King book in her lifetime or she would know that small coastal towns are the last place on Earth you should go with that sort of thing in your past, but nevermind. With great efficiency, cursed tapes starts popping up along with corpses mangled in a familiar style and Samara starts showing up in little Aidan's digital photographs.

As the trailers, posters and TV spots have already informed you, the tape is mostly out as the signature symbol-of-menace as Samara takes center stage; leaping in and out of TV sets and her victims nightmares with a new plan (or maybe this was the idea all along) to possess Aidan and claim Rachel as her mother. This new notion of Samara (whatever she is) desiring a maternal figure becomes the central subtext of the film, and we get some perspective on this from Sissy Spaceky as Samara's long-institutionalized birth-mother (this casting is, of course, an exercise in generating metatext as Spacek played the literal mother of all telekinetic abuse-victims in "Carrie.") The notion is raised that Samara may have "had" to be drowned because she was herself under some sort of demonic influence, and the film is suprisingly frank about positing this as a kind of worst-case-scenario explaination for Post-Partem Depression child-murders. (It's also suggested that Samara was fathered by some otherworldly being "from the waters beyond our world," a gleefully Lovecraftian turn-of-phrase that is sadly never quite paid off.)

All of this is executed with style and poise. Hideo Nakata, who directed the original Japanese "Ringu" that inspired the first film (and about 70% of all scary movies now made in Japan,) has a good eye and a fine sense of pace. The actors are uniformly good, though there isn't as much room for a supporting cast as there was in the first film. As I said before, it's well-made, well-written and well-acted... and yet, it's just not scary. Not once.

Understand, I'm not making demands of the film. Frequent readers of this blog will know I would prefer to see the world of genre become MORE liquid and interwoven, and I'm certainly not placing some kind of scare-quota on the film just because of it's supernatural setting. If it appeared at all that the "point" of this film was to eschew the horror genre for a more character-drama slanted sequel, that'd be a different story. The first field put Samara's appearance, powers and technique all on the table, so logically the second film should be more about learning and understanding than it is about trying to build suspense for a "monster" we've already met once.

What it comes down to is, the film HAS scare-scenes. It WASN'T designed to merely be a drama, there are scenes that are constructed, edited and scored to make you jump or feel tension, and they just don't work. The film essentially tries to repeat the "holy crap!" vibe of the original's "Samara emerges" climax over and over again, and it just won't work more than that once. The strange thing is, the screenplay while not providing scares IS well-structured enough that, at first, it's difficult to notice that something isn't right: most of the time, bad scares are easy to spot because a film goes to great plot-strain to get them in. Here, the non-scary scary parts all occur within the framework of logical plot-progression, so it takes awhile to realize that the film is basically blowing-it on it's primary mission.

Interesting and well-made but ultimately a failure at generating it's intended emotional response from the audience. It's just not scary, and it's trying hard enough to be scary that it becomes a pretty big problem. Worth seeing for curiousity's sake, but ultimately lackluster and dissapointing.


1 comment:

Haze said...

Warning: Plot elements might be given...

i must disagree... with the point of it not being scary... i thought it was scary in a few sequences... naming two in particular... the samaro/digital camera sequence..
the bathroom part...

also the odd revisitation to the scenes in the original.. or should say..
the new improved deer scene... i found that one to be the best scare of the movie..