bfSamara, the evil ghost from The Ring, hasn’t upgraded. At the beginning of The Ring Two she’s still getting passed around (cleverly) via videotape – at this point that seems about as worrisome as an 8mm film reel.

But that’s OK because The Ring Two, outside of the opening scene, isn’t interested in Samara-as-viral-meme anymore. Rest assured that she will likely be uploaded to the net by The Ring Three though, infected Bit Torrenters at a phenomenal rate. The Ring Two is a much more personal story, and one that feels a lot more like a new Poltergeist film than it does the follow up to the surprise hit remake of a Japanese horror film from a few years ago.

Naomi Watts and her completely creepy kid Aidan have left Seattle behind after the very ballsy ending of The Ring (refresher – rather than defeat the wicked videotape, which has marked her son for death, Watts’ character made a new copy so that the curse would be transferred to another innocent. That fatalism and moral grayness was pretty great) and resettled in some rural part of Washington State. But that damn videotape shows up pretty soon, and Watts knows what she must do – destroy it.

But burning the tape only pisses Samara off, and seemingly (but completely without explanation) frees her to do pretty much whatever she likes. And what she would like to do is take over young Aidan and live another life in his body.

The first half of the film is full of good tension and some nice scares, but the whole thing loses its way in the second half. By the way, the first half is notable for what is perhaps the oddest and goofiest scare scene in an American movie this year – Watts and the kid are attacked on the road by a whole herd of CGI elk, apparently enraged by the stink of Samara on Aidan. They attack the car by hurling their bodies directly into it. CGI kamikaze elk! Nothing outside of a Will Ferrell movie will be weirder in 2005.

The problems with the second half of The Ring Two are multiple – the movie hasn’t introduced enough characters who you think might die, and none whose continued existence you care about (and that includes a cameo from Sissy Spacek as Samara’s mom-slash-Michael Jackson). Samara’s powers when occupying Aidan are completely amorphous – she can kill people however the director pleases, but the joy of the first film was the rules she had to follow. Also, the first film had that element of the ticking clock, where seven days were going to pass, but there’s none of that in this film.

The Ring Two delves more into the backstory of Samara, which was unavoidable, but in doing so it turns her into if not a sympathetic character, a fairly pathetic one. She just wants a mommy, it turns out. And the film literalizes her to an alarming degree, to the point where the climax of the movie involves a trip into the videotape, a scene that calls to mind Poltergeist and the Freddy Kreuger films, and that feels too metaphysically mumbo jumbo to fit here.

Of course all of this is hiding the true story of The Ring Two: It’s about a mother who is afraid that her son is gay. Aidan, besides having a sissy name and being raised by a single mom, is so fastidiously dressed and groomed (the kid’s always wearing a tucked in dress shirt) that he could be giving his eye to help this straight guy get his wardrobe together, is being possessed by… a girl! There are even moments when photos of Aidan show Samara superimposed on his face. Reading the film this way will help while away some of the very slow time in the first act.

Naomi Watts delivers a non-performance here. Every scene has “contractual obligation” written on it. The worst part of it all is that she’s not only the main character, for huge chunks of the film she’s the only character. The script by Ehren Kruger doesn’t do her any favors – her character spends most of the film in a panic and distressed with no one to talk to. I do have to give Kruger major points for crafting a story that expands on the original film, and doesn’t just rehash it. While I feel that the story he came up with is fairly dull and padded out, it’s rare when a sequel breaks different ground.

Hideo Nakata is the director of the original Japanese Ringu, and he comes to America to helm this one. He has some style, and the few scares the script gives him are effective. He also a great sense of pacing and tension within a scene – unfortunately the movie as a whole has very little effective pacing.

2005 has seen a number of very schlocky horror films take the top spot at the box office – The Ring Two is better than all of them (I will in fact give it the dubious distinction of being the scariest film of the year), but it doesn’t top the original. Still, fans of that film will find enough creepy Samara business and enough shock moments to make them feel satisfied coming out of the theater. The Ring Two isn’t a great film, but when compared to other modern horror films and especially modern horror sequels, it’s a solidly middle of the road effort. Damning with faint praise indeed.

6.3 out of 10