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Correction to This Article
A March 18 Style review of "The Ring Two" misstated the film's setting. It is Astoria, Ore., not Astoria, Wash.

'The Ring Two': Back to The Well Once Too Often

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page C01

I had very little luck with "The Ring Two," which appears to have been written on a large piece of blank paper by chickens with their feet dipped in ink.

Utterly baffling, the film is a sequel of sorts to "The Ring," a surprise hit in 2002 and a prime mover in the career of Australian actress Naomi Watts. Watts and several others are back, but they appear as McFused as those of us in the audience. Even the many younger, smarter people in the moviehouse appeared not to get much out of it.

As Evelyn, Sissy Spacek may hold the key to ending the cycle of terror and death in "The Ring Two." Then again, she may not. Go figure. (Gemma La Mana -- Dreamworks Pictures)

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In the first place, the movie all too quickly loses contact with the central device that elevated the original -- adapted from a clever Japanese film -- to cult status: a mysterious VCR tape. Once seen, it dooms its viewer within seven days. Indeed, "Ring Two" opens with its best sequence, in which a somewhat repellent young man tries to get his date to watch the tape, to save his own life. It's a nice set piece because it shows how much more terrifying implication is than literal representation of gross lethality. We feel the young man (Ryan Merriman) manipulating his poor, dim, sacrificial new girlfriend toward her fate with a kind of desperate aplomb. Bad move, kid, as that water sluicing in under the kitchen door makes clear.

But then that's gone and we're back with Watts as reporter Rachel Keller, who has fled an earlier misadventure with the Tape of Death (possibly it was "Showgirls," as that bomb will definitely kill you!) with her cute son, Aidan (David Dorfman, who looks like the love child of Haley Joel Osment and Macaulay Culkin). Rachel is the editor of a small city newspaper in the picturesque seaside burg of Astoria, Wash., when, as we have just seen, It Starts Happening Again.

But then it stops happening again. It never happens again. The director, unwisely, abandons the tape scenario, with its inherently suspenseful and high-stress ticktocking approach-of-death mechanism, for . . . well, for what, I'm not sure. Instead the movie appears to follow a kind of "Exorcist" flight path, in which Aidan, possessed by the lethal spirit of a little girl who drowned in a well, goes homicidal on various cast members brought in expressly to die. Or something like that. Help.

This doesn't yield much. It seems to add up to a lot of scenes of young Dorfman tilting his head and squinching up his eyes as various adults -- Elizabeth Perkins is the best known -- are mentally suborned into death. There's no gore at all, but the movie does traffic in a kind of creepy intensity generated mainly by its visual non sequiturs. For example, a bathroom door will suddenly shut and lock itself and the bathtub tap will begin to shoot its water up, where it collects on the ceiling, acquiring the mass, weight and density of a biblical flood. Creepy. Stupid, but creepy.

And who is the "Ring" master in this circus of perversity? Why, it's actually the original Japanese director of the two "Ringu" pictures that inspired the American hit. Hideo Nakata brings what can only be called a Japanese sensibility to the project, meaning that he eschews Western cause-effect or motive-action logic, and instead goes straight for the primeval power of abstract imagery. Though inert, this can be quite striking. A long look up a well shaft to a sky partially obscured by a stone lid is a profoundly disturbing image, even if it's the point of view of someone who got to the bottom of that well by . . . er, by . . . being pulled into it . . . through the screen of a television set. I'm still trying to figure out how that would work.

Then there's the strange case of the many abandoned corpses that seem to excite no police interest. In fact, as I understand the movie, there's a dead guy in the cab of a truck parked on a public street for the last half-hour or so, and by morning nobody seems to have noticed. Likewise the fate of poor Perkins, in the role of a psychiatrist who injects an air bubble into her bloodstream and nods off at the halfway point, never to be mentioned again. Am I being petty in paying attention to stuff like this?

I liked the first movie and can still vividly remember as many as three or possibly four seconds of it. In some way it held together, perhaps under the guidance of the slick young director Gore Verbinski, a slumming A-lister who would next make the big hit "Pirates of the Caribbean." But "The Ring Two" illustrates the law of returning diminishments.

The Ring Two (111 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, disturbing images, adult themes and profanity (wow!).

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