Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Namoi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman
Directed by Hideo Nakata
Released by Dreamworks Home Entertainment
The term “unrated” is thrown around a lot these days, usually by studios looking for a cheap buck. Most simply toss in a few minor deleted bits and advertise the entire package as “the version you couldn’t see” (even though they were the ones who wouldn’t let you see it). Thankfully, the new edition of The Ring Two is the real deal; and while there isn’t any extreme content added back into the mix, fans are treated to something better: a vastly superior film.
The story is always the same: An innovative foreign director crosses over into the Hollywood regime, where frigid studio executives on a quest for mainstream appeal quickly compromise his vision. More often than not, this results in a mess that alienates both devoted cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. In this case Dreamworks didn’t respond to director Hideo Nakata’s subtle approach and gave his U.S. debut a rushed post-op job in order to make it more accessible to attention-deficit audiences. This only begs the question: Why the hell did they hire Nakata and act surprised when he delivered a Nakata film? After all, his Japanese Ring created their entire franchise.
For those lucky enough to have missed it in theaters, The Ring Two picks up several months after the events of Gore Verbinski’s original remake (now there’s an oxymoron!). Rachel and Aidan have relocated to Oregon in hopes of starting life anew, but the past comes back to haunt them — literally — as Samara resurfaces to once again terrorize mother and son. This time the dead girl takes hold of Aidan and uses him as a vessel to re-enter the world of the living.
While the damage has already been done thanks to the abysmal studio edit, at least Nakata’s definitive version has been given a new life on DVD shelves. Incorporating over twenty minutes of new footage, The Ring Two now carries a totally different vibe. While the theatrical cut lacked any trace of Nakata, this version uncovers his J-horror roots and gives the film a much-needed dose of atmosphere and tension. Gone are many of the old jump scares and musical stingers, replaced by scenes that feel more restrained and ominous.
One of the many differences can be found in the fair sequence. In the theatrical film Aidan enters the bathroom, and we see a quick image of Samara in the corner, followed by a hokey music video style jump scare. In Nakata’s cut the scene goes on much longer: Aidan interacts with numerous bathroom appliances that start going haywire before
Samara appears and slowly floats towards him from out of the corner. It’s a genuinely creepy little moment full of build-up and pay-off, neither of which were present in the original version.
Virtually every scene has been re-edited to give the film a more slow burn feel. Shots go on longer, the pacing is more deliberate, and many spooky nuances have been added into the sound mix (the trademark “Sadako noise” from the Japanese films even makes an appearance). There’s also a wealth of additional character moments that add weight to the overall story. As a whole, The Ring Two now feels much closer in spirit to the J-horror than Verbinski’s flashy remake.
But even in its improved state the film still carries its share of problems, mostly due to pedestrian scriptwriter Ehren Krueger. While Naomi Watts does her best with the material, Rachel is still a flat character and some of her dialogue is absolutely wretched (yes, the hideous one-liner is still present). A few of the FX shots look awkward, and there are moments when Nakata feels restrained by the trappings of making a sequel to another director’s re-interpretation.
Still, it’s amazing that the film turned out as good as it did, and that’s partly because Nakata is working in familiar territory. Maternal issues have long been at the heart of the director’s films, and he manages to wring genuine emotion from the Rachel/Aidan relationship (something that Verbinski’s film sorely lacked). When all is said and done, the movie’s strongest moments are not the scares but the intimate moments found in the second half.
While it’s not the sequel mainstream audiences wanted, Hideo Nakata’s final vision is a deeper, quieter, and more personal film than Verbinski’s predecessor. There are still plenty of flaws to be found, but this new version gives The Ring Two exactly what it was missing in the theaters: an identity.
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