Hey folks, Harry here with Sonic Death Monkey and his positive look at Dreamworks' THE RING 2. NOW - before we get into this review, you should be aware that the reviewer is under-18, that this was a work in progress when he saw it and lastly - where we'll get the best advance reaction to this movie will be at SXSW film fest this year, where it will be showing. Having said that, S.D.Monkey's review is a pretty intense spoiler guide of the movie - However, at the end of the review he gives it 7.2 out of 10. And has problems with some of the acting and pacing - both things that can be tightened and enhanced through score, editing and the final tweaking. Personally - I expect this movie to kick a lot of ass!
Hey Harry, sonic death monkey here again, since I got my last review published I figure it was worth the effort to send you more…here's my take on THE RING TWO.
But, before I start I should probably give you a point of reference as to where I stand on all issues ring related. I saw the American ring first, then later bought the Japanese version DVD. I'm aware of the other sequels plots, but I've never seen them. And after watching the three I have seen basically back to back to back I have say I honestly believe that the American remake is superior in most aspects, even if it did explain too much. The ending however, is much better in the Japanese film. That said, I found the American version to be almost an existential comedy for the most part and I liked it a lot more than I otherwise would have because of the subliminal hints…I love those to no end.
This film represents a huge step forward for Hideo Nakata visually; he should be able to do what John Woo hasn't and keep his Asian flavor while using American budget sizes to make some truly special films…sadly, he isn't quite there yet. The movie is however a success in that it is much scarier than the other 2 in the series. In fact, this might be one of the scarier films I've ever seen. All the same, it lacks what made the first film and its remake so memorable to most audiences…a good story with an involving mystery. Where the original(s) had investigative reporting and plot twists this one has pretty much no plot and 10 minutes of mystery which boil down to one clue that solves everything.
The basic story is this; Rachel (Naomi Watts), still scared shitless after the events of part one decides to move away because, well obviously super natural beings cant move from one place to another. She and her son (David Dorfman, doing his best SIXTH SENSE and SHINING impression) get to the new town. But, before you can say plot contrivance three times fast little miss Morgan once again rears her ugly head. And this time, she wants to rip off DARK WATER.
Why exactly she comes back is left ambiguous, or maybe it was lazy screenwriting. Either is possible because the film gives you 3 or 4 different versions as to why. It may be Japanese, but it's no RASHOMAN or even DONNIE DARKO in this aspect.
The first reason is set up in an opening story scene, which is actually the second scene. The first being an endless succession of angles of waves crashing intercut with black, very 2001: A SPACE ODDESSY. Anyway, the scene plays as a point-counter-point to the first films opening, only with smaller breasts and much worse acting. Then again, the actors might be just fine, it could have been the script which was laugh out loud bad for the first 15 minutes. Hell, it had more laughs than SCARY MOVIE 3's opening, then again so did SCHINDLERS' LIST.
The scene starts with a pair of "teens" (read:27 year olds) in a park. The girl has liked the boy for all of high school, and suddenly he's interested in her…we soon find out that he's actually not interested; he just needs her to watch the tape. This basically takes a series of subplots cut from part one about people using the video for revenge on their enemies and rehashes it. (Note to Kruger, it didn't work the first 3 times, it still doesn't the fourth go 'round) Plus, its film was beaten to the punch on the idea by Chuck Palahniuks' pulpy but brilliant LULLB. A novel which explores similar territory to much creepier result. (Note to the producers, rip that book off in the next sequel, or just make it into its own movie).
This bit of the film is by far its weakest. I almost wanted to think Kruger was playing with us and writing badly on purpose to lull us into a sense of false security before blowing us away…only it's not bad enough for that. Just bad like the scripts I've written. Luckily, the pair is quickly dispatched by Samara.
Still, this part of the movie doesn't work very well. The flow is way off. For example, the boy gets a phone call from his friend (who showed him the tape) who seems to think it's all very funny…hell, the guy about to die is even joking in earnest about everything though he obviously believes he is very close to death and has giant hand shaped bruises all over him proving it's all real.
To the films credit though, the scene has one good twist, ("I watched it…I just covered my eyes!") and when Samara shows up she brings with her a whole new bag of tricks. (Apparently aside from watching DARK WATER she also caught VIDEODRONE in between films).
She's got enough liquid seeping out of her to please even Larry Flynt and can control its path too. Also, Samaras got a new makeup job courtesy of the one and only Rick Baker. Now, when I say new make up job I don't just mean they changed effects houses, I mean NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET part 1 vs. WES CRAVENS' NEW NIGHTMARE. That's how different it is. Sadly, it's not a step up. In part one (American) she looked corpse-y, here she just looks more than a little like Freddy. And she talks.
Soon after, at her new job, Rachel hears about the boys' death and immediately knows she has to investigate. After all, that's what all good type editors do right? And, by investigate, I mean break and enter. That's what Watts' does over and over again here. I counted a total of 5 instances. In fact, there is one scene where she sneaks into an ambulance to look at a dead body (one of the films scare scene highlights) then within one minute breaks into a house to steal the video! Of course, the police swarming the area don't care that she's there, and Rachel has no qualms about entering the scene of an active homicide investigation and possibly implicating herself for the murder!
But, the bit passes quickly, and it's really just a McGuffen for the rest of the film. Also, the ambulance scene is really damn effective so I don't think too many people will care. Back in the story; Rachel gets the tape and takes it to the same bin that Ashton Kutcher used last year to play FAHRENHEIT 451 at the end of THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT. I seriously think it was the same location and bin even. It was pretty damn funny. Funnier still is the fact that as the tape burns Rachel literally yells at it while we are treated to ominous close-ups of the melting tape, then more yelling, then the score swells and…the scene ends with no pay off. We are later lead to believe that by burning the tape Rachel "let the dead out" which lets Samara into our realm…apparently the cassettes are sort of like the traps in GHOSTBUSTERS.
Meanwhile Aidan is having some bad ass nightmares and wetting the bed up to his shoulders. Ok, so it was supposed to be sweat, but the entire audience burst out laughing when they saw it all the same. Rachel wakes him up and Aidan's sick, and very cold. The next day while driving through the woods some cheaply rendered CGI deer attack the pairs' car.
Now, as dumb as this sounds, and as bad as the CG is at this stage, I still must admit this scene kicked my ass and left my jaw agape. This has got to be the best car crash scene I've seen since FINAL DESTINATION 2. The sense of impact is so real and visceral. The SFX work so tight and taunt that despite the absurdity and randomness of it all the sequence had me freaked out this its imagery and my friend declaring the flick "a trip and a half" (which he repeated a dozen times during the course.)
As the film progresses it becomes apparent that Samara is trying to possess Aidan. She shows up whenever a picture of him is taken (he's a little photo geek in this film, never far from his camera) and appears in his nightmares, (if I'm not mistaken both of these traits aren't new, just taken from RINGU 2.) Cryptic clues are given from many sources, the biggest of which is that "the dead never sleep", and "can't control the living when they sleep". At this point I was worried that they were grooming Samara to star in the FREDDY VS JASON sequel.
And to an extent that almost makes sense. Samara is in so many scenes in this film and basically acting as a Boogyman…er…lady. It is effective but really just degrades the character and makes her into sort of a Freddy or Jason herself. She isn't the ALIEN hiding in the air ducts of M.O.T.H.E.R. anymore, now she's the faceless ALIENS ready to be mowed down. It's just not as scary, especially because we're not given a reason to fear her.
There in lies the movies biggest problem. Samara is never set up as a real threat. The writers and director assume that you already care about Rachel and Aidan and fear Samara. They don't make an effort to reinforce this at all. The first film worked hard to make the payoff of the TV exit work, this film simply leeches off of that. In many ways this movie suffers from THE MUMMY RETURNS syndrome, meaning that it has no plot without the original film backing it up.
No real character arc's are found, except of course for the one character whose MO was already perfect; Samara. One of the best aspects of the first film was that Samara didn't want to be found, she didn't want to be saved, she didn't want justice even. She wanted revenge on every last living person. Here they pussy out and reverse that. Samara whispers (through another persons' mouth) that "I want my mommy, I don't need you, or the doctors, or anybody else! I only need mommy, mommy came back for me, she found me, that means she loves me."
I think those were just about the words spoken.
Sure, it's a good idea to give the monster pathos, but when the pathos happens to be the exact same arc as that of the other movie Kruger was writing at the time (DARK WATER) and that pathos is much less interesting that the setup the character already has, it just seems stupid.
But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the film. There are 6-8 earned scare moments in it with some great freaky imagery. Of course there are lots of the usual BOO! Scares too, but not as many as most horror films are reduced to. It is actually a better scary movie than part one.
Unfortunately it is also a very uneven picture. The lighting is like that on David Lynchs' last masturbatory opus MULHOLAND DRIVE. That film started as a TV pilot, and was lit like one. This is a big budget picture, but it still looks like it could be a LAW AND ORDER: SUPERNATURAL VICTIMS UNIT spin-off. The picture has no grit, no grime (except in the well chase) and seems too…smooth.
The direction is just sloppy. The movie becomes a mess of swooping cranes during some scenes in the first hour and many shots seem improvised and poorly framed. Dialogue scenes are cut like action scenes, and oddly enough, the new "tape" images (courtesy of Samara possessing someone and pulling a reverse DEADZONE) are cut together very slowly and evenly killing all the disorientation and tension of the images. Continuity is also near non-existent, but about three-quarters of that particular issue I'm will be fixed by opening day.
Nakata may not work well with actors; Watts gives an exceptionally weak performance and Dorfman in a pivotal role just falls flat, but he makes up for it in the scenes that count in a movie like this. I know I've already mentioned it, but my god do the scares ever work here! Make sure you look for the scene with a head-shrink and a needle…it could be my favorite on screen kill since WRONG TURN chopped a girls head off at the mouth and the body fell from the trees while the top of the head sat on the ax acting as a platter while planted firmly in the tree trunk.
And, though Watts is bland and Dorfman clichÃ© some of the acting is quite good. Sissy Spacek is delightfully unhinged as Samaras real mother (she's the entire teaser trailer by the way) and some bit players like Mary Joy as Sister Elizabeth are real stand outs who I'd like to see more of in future films.
Keeping in mind that this film is directed by the original Japanese creator you have to expect some reference and much reverence for the source material Nakata doesn't fail here. The shot of Rachel and Aidan in their car driving through the forest (as seen in the preview) is a clever reverse angle of the final shot of the Japanese original. Also there is reference to Samara being a hermaphrodite when Sister Elizabeth calls her a he, then starts the next sentence with "she".
Another big change added back in from the original is the increase on focus on psychic ability. Aidan warns Rachel about the deer, Samara was a psychic infant, Spacek has a psychic link to Samara, lots of possession takes place… Thinking about it, most of the primaries showed some super natural instincts.
And about Spacek. her role is sure to get fans talking; the character is obviously just as crazy as the cheerleader at the end of the Depalma classic CARRIE which launched Spacek's career. She even seems to pay homage to that character and her own in said film. But, even as a crazy living in the room Ari Larter left open when she died in FINAL DESTINATION 2 (paper clippings on the walls and all, the rooms are almost identical sans the TV) Spacek seems to be giving out little nuggets of truth. But, what she says seems more X-FILES than exposition, she implies that Samara's father was a sea monster and even it seems that Samara isn't really evil, just possessed since she was months old. All these conflicting clues are interesting, but they lead nowhere and don't really improve on the set mythology. All the same, one really interesting line is put in as a throw away.
Apparently, someone comes to see Spacek about Samara every couple of years. This was the single most intriguing part of the entire film for me, but it was never explored. I think though, that it was simply showing the real meaning of "the ring" which was to symbolize the cycle of the curse.
Oddly, this film fails where its 2 predecessors were their best, the climax. Here they are trying too hard and it ends up being almost funny. The possessed character is freed from Samaras grip and hair starts to pour from their mouth (note to the producers, it would be much cooler if the jaw stretched out of shape and Samara literally started to come out of the mouth). Samara floats over the bath tub where the make shift exorcism took place looking like a twenty dollar blow up doll for a few seconds.
Then it's over, you think (not). The TV flashes on and of course there's the well, Samara starts coming out and Rachel stands in her way, in a shot right out of VIDEODRONE (the one where the guy is kissing the TV) Rachel is pulled into the TV, and down the well.
She has to climb out. But about half way up…well we've all seen the trailer. Unfortunately, the scene lasts less than 2 minutes and the payoff seriously looks like it would fit right in in the inevitable SCARY MOVIE 4.
About SCARY MOVIE 3, it really hurts this one. Samara here looks a lot like Samaras parody, and so much of that movie just tore away everything creepy about THE RING. Now…it just doesn't work quite as well.
The script doesn't help either, it's an awkward mish mash of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY, (what with Samara possessing people, showing up in mirrors and being some sort of serpent demon at some point in the past) with a lot of DARK WATER and some generic Slasher (Samara can kill anytime she pleases here) thrown in for good measure
All the same, it's a damn good time at the movies. It does feel slapped together, and the plot is reduced to "woman in peril" and "child possessed" clichÃ©s…but it still, it has that special something and really got to me, which is hard to do. It's a great date movie, she'll hold you close and it's not too plot-y as to interfere with making out. Plus it has some outstanding scares and effect shots. Though it's far from perfect it delivers the goods where it matters; scares. So I recommend it, with reservations.
7.2 out of 10
-sonic death monkey.