Two years after escaping the video curse of Samara, Rachel Keller (Watts) and her son Aidan (Dorfman) have settled in a small town - but Samara returns, intent on possessing Aidan so Rachel will be the mother she never had. Rachel digs deeper into the ghost's origins to save her son.
If you've been following the Ring cycle since its origin as a Japanese novel, and have clocked every adaptation, remake and sequel hurled out since, then you'll want to see this, too. However, The Ring Two is not the best place to come aboard the Sadako (now Samara) Express Train To Terror: it's one of those sequels that not only assumes you've seen the previous film, but expects you to have watched it again on DVD the afternoon before you turn up at the cinema.
The expected unsettling prologue, in which a nervy teenage boy tries to get a reluctant girl to watch a copy of the deadly Samara video so he can dodge the curse by passing it on to her, doesn't exactly ease the newcomer in. Instead, it works a vein of creepy laughs for Ring regulars, as they realise what's going on while the not-quite-as-dimwitted-as-she-might-be girl is just spooked by the boy's eagerness to make her watch something unpleasant (why not tell her it's bootleg outtakes of Johnny Depp's nude scene from Pirates Of The Caribbean so she'll keep her eyes on the screen?). Spooky ghost-girl Samara (Kelly Stables, replacing Daveigh Chase), still lank-haired and dead after all these years, comes to town via the cassette. We pick up with Rachel (Naomi Watts, with tanglier hair) and Aidan (David Dorfman, taking more of the acting strain) as they try to live under the spectral child's radar.
Like the Kellers, you shouldn't get too attached to friendly new characters, since, as you'd expect from a mainstream American horror, they're probably doomed. In that the film exists for purely commercial reasons, don't expect too much originality or sense: screenwriter Ehren Kruger, whose job description rhymes with 'whack', throws the haunted cassette into a fire early on (who thought a burning VHS could look so nasty?) and simply goes for a different story with the same structure as The Ring; this time, the kid is not threatened with death but possession, which leads to '70s-TV-movie-style scenes in which the tot goes pale and looks angelically sinister (just like in that early Spielberg credit Something Evil). Cue our fetchingly distressed heroine being suspected of child abuse, then sleuthing her way back into Samara's troubled childhood.
The big twist on the production side is that, with The Ring director Gore Verbinski now out of the picture and originally announced helmer Noam Murro quitting over script differences, Hollywood has cleverly gone back to the source and hired Hideo Nakata - director not only of the Japanese Ring, but an entirely different Ring 2 - to import his own brand of unease. Like Takashi Shimizu, who recently remade his movie The Grudge as a slick, Sam Raimi-produced Hollywood horror, Nakata knows the material best.
As the official Mr. Ring, he works harder with the lead actors (especially Dorfman, who does a good 'evil child') and stages set-pieces that keep pulling you into the picture even as Kruger's story hits cruise control. The most memorable is an early attack on the Kellers' car by a malevolent and suicidal deer, but Nakata's fondness for water-based scares also pays dividends in several excellent bathroom and well-bottom scenes.
That depends on your commitment to the franchise. Honestly, they should have quit after the original Japanese film, but all the remakes and follow-ups have points of interest and this, while not exactly necessary, delivers a decent puzzle and enough jumps to keep you enjoyably jittery.
Reviewed by Kim Newman