There's quite a good Ring movie here. Unfortunately it goes out for a beer in the second half and the film dribbles away into disappointment.
In fairness the scriptwriters had some reasonable ideas on what to put in a sequel to this most sequel-unfriendly of horror movies, but unfortunately after putting those ideas into a script, it becomes clear that they don't know what to do with them. Ring sequels have a tough job, although Ring 0: Birthday would suggest that prequels have a surprising amount of potential. The problem with any sequel is that you've got to continue the story. What would Samara do next? The answer in this case would seem to be "stay dead" and "go on killing people", neither of which sounds like a challenging development.
Naomi Watts and David Dorfman are back as our luckless heroes, but you need more than them to make a horror film. No, we need Samara. Ring 2, Rasen and Koji Suzuki's original novels all had their own ideas on how to extend this series, but only one of the ideas of that lot ever managed to stick in my memory and that would have been hilariously inappropriate for this underage Samara. Nevertheless this film's writers came up with something. It's quite good, in fact. Not only does it makes sense, but it could only work in the American version of the franchise. It's the Hollywood answer to the problem, shall we say, but that's completely in tune with what the first film was doing and I really liked some of its ramifications.
One idea of theirs in particular seems to come out of left field but makes an odd kind of sense once you've thought of it. Something called The Ring shouldn't have an end, but the corollary of this is that it shouldn't have a beginning either. The film brings up this idea and then leaves it dangling rather than taking it to a conclusion, but I suppose it's something they might follow up in The Ring Three.
No, their problem is that having come up with a solution to the problem of "what Samara wants", they don't know what to do when she gets it. The tension evaporates, the action moves to dreamland and the ease of Naomi Watt's supposed triumph smacks of Hollywood bullshit. This isn't a terrifying movie, but it was passably tense in the first half. There's some good stuff while Samara still has an agenda. Unfortunately the second half loses all of its scares, even if (like Rasen) it's not so bad if you can put aside any hope of enjoying a horror film. Personally I'd say the best way of watching this film would be afterwards to make up another finale of your own.
I don't want to get too specific for fear of spoilers, but the finale has one big chickening-out in particular. A death doesn't happen. I know that killing everyone is the easy option in horror, but there's a reason why doing here that could have made the film unforgettably powerful. As it stands, though, I ended up almost feeling that the Kellers were bullying Samara.
That said, there's some good stuff here. As always the ending is the thing you'll remember best, but I quite liked a lot of what went before. In particular the best thing about the film is its child actor, but just putting it like that is to do David Dorfman a disservice. He's not just a "good child actor". He's a good actor, like Dakota Fanning or a young Jodie Foster. These are children who can deliver a performance on an adult level, which is bloody lucky here since Dorfman has the movie on his shoulders. He has the key role, with Naomi Watts merely his co-star. A bigger name playing Rachel Keller could perhaps have stolen the film back from Dorfman, but I'd have liked to see them try. Remember this kid. He's going to be acting in movies for decades to come.
Admittedly you could still have made this film with a non-actor as Aidan Keller, but the results would have been nearly worthless. Dorfman does some serious heavy lifting here, with all kinds of complicated adult emotions being displayed without dialogue. He shows us thought processes. He's playing an unusually adult child who calls his mother "Rachel" and scolds her about her language, but he's also asked to do a U-turn and do a Samara, complicated by the fact that this is a undead homicidal psychopath and yet also a little girl. You couldn't say he nails it, but you can tell he's making a effort. Watch the way he blinks his eyes, for instance.
The other actors are fine. Naomi Watts is fine, while appearing briefly are Sissy Spacek and Gary Cole as an estate agent. That was nice. Apparently we also have a new Samara, Kelly Stables replacing Daveigh Chase, but I'd have never known that if I hadn't looked it up.
The director is Hideo Nakata, the Japanese director of the original Ringu. He puts in the odd reference to the Japanese films, including ones he didn't direct, with my favourite being Samara's scary crawling up the side of the well. He's less flashy than Gore Verbinski, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. My favourite visual touch is a scene where we're seeing some photos on a digital camera screen and I'm honestly not sure if they moved or not. Call me strange, but for me that was scarier than simply having them move.
Incidentally the DVD extras contain a 15-minute film called Rings, which I haven't had a chance to watch yet but is apparently quite good. Think of it as a prequel to this sequel to the remake of an adaptation of a novel. The Ring 1.5. I've heard that it explains the backstory of a kid at the start of this film who's given himself two minutes out of the 10,290 in his allotted seven days in which to do something that would save his life. Having thus displayed the foresight of an ice cream in a nuclear furnace, he then manages to forget a further obvious precaution. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Darwin at work.
Naomi Watts gets a couple of super-corny lines of dialogue. "Call my name and I'll follow your voice, even if I have to come into that nightmare with you." Yes, I'm afraid so. However to make up for that, (a) Watts gets another clingy top after climbing out of a well, and (b) there's always Dorfman. The film fatally loses much steam when that boy's out of the picture and we've only got Watts investigating solo. His story's the scary one, not hers. "She can hear us."
This movie is less intelligent than its ideas. It keeps up the water and circle motifs, to which it surreally adds deer. It also has a theme of mothers who hurt their children, but then it doesn't do anything with it. On top of that, it's quite a quiet film. By Western standards it's going for the slow burn, but then at the end fizzles. However if a generous friend could be persuaded to interrupt you fifteen minutes before the climax, you might well go away quite impressed with the ideas and its sombre development of them. A big chunk of this film is better than its reputation.