Cinema seems a little waterlogged at the moment. Last week saw the release of Wes Anderson's deep-sea comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Next week's Sahara could at least for half of it be called Waterworld, and this week it's the new horror sequel The Ring Two, a movie flooded with water scenes. The recent Hollywood remake of Japanese horror hit The Grudge (2003) was unique in that it was one of the few to use the original director (in this case, Takashi Shimizu). The American producers of The Ring Two, sequel to the sleeper hit The Ring (2002), also take that unusual step.
The pioneer J-Horror director Hideo Nakata, on whose 1998 film Ringu The Ring was based, steps behind the camera with The Ring Two. It benefits very much from this, as it does with The Ring's Naomi Watts again in front as the star. Watts rekindles her vulnerable-tough matriarch character Rachel Keller, the single mum/reporter doing everything she can to protect her son from Samara, the very determined and waterlogged teen ghostie on their trail.
Six months on from their ordeal, Rachel and her freaky-looking young son Aidan (played again very woodenly by David Dorfman) have moved from their home in Seattle deeper into the Pacific Northwest. She takes a job as a newspaper editor in a small town in an effort to re-start their lives sans the deadly apparition who haunted them - and many a teenager's VCR - in The Ring One.Of course that dreaded videotape from The Ring One comes back to haunt Aidan and Rachel in The Ring Two. Like any good ghost in any good horror movie franchise (think Freddy Kruger and the hellions from The Amityville Horror), she of the well, Samara, continues to make their lives a misery, in addition to flooding their bathroom. Aidan starts to not only see Samara again; he also channels her behaviour. In order to rid their lives once and for all of scary-girl Rachel digs even deeper into Samara's past, which ultimately leads her to a psychiatric hospital and Samara's deeply disturbed mother, Evelyn (Carrie's magnificent Sissy Spacek).
It should be pointed out that The Ring Two is a stand-alone sequel to the American The Ring and not a remake of Nakata's J-horror Ringu 2. Story wise the two share very little other than the scene set inside the psychiatric institution, a deliberate ploy by The Ring Two writer Ehren Kruger (The Ring). But Nakata brings a fantastic, confident Eastern perspective to the material that The Ring One - though a good remake yet a more furtive effort - lacked. The metaphors, symbols and motifs of the Japanese Ringu films that Nakata pioneered resonate more deeply and authentically in The Ring Two than they did in The Ring One. In the Americanised version they didn't carry the cultural weight that they do in The Ring Two, especially when it came to the many water scenes. As Nakata explains, water holds a particular fear for the Japanese: "Through natural disasters, water itself can be a symbol of death, so we have a natural fear of water that influences me". In spite of its slower, more languid pace, things feel more even-handed and consistent in The Ring Two than in The Ring One with the water scenes particularly effective and terrifying, brought to bear on Rachel's predicament in a more poetic way.
While The Ring One was ultimately a pretty good remake/translation for English-speaking audiences, The Ring Two is an equally good film for different reasons. Nakata brings the fear of parenthood at the basis of his Ringu series much more to the fore in this American sequel, while integrating enough Japanese-style terror and Western horror movie references to keep international audiences happy.