This post contains some SPOILERS for The Ring and The Ring Two. Proceed at your discretion.
The Ring is a movie audiences either found utterly stupid or utterly terrifying. Consider me in the latter category. The story of a cursed video tape which leads to the viewer’s death after seven days had me leaving the theater in 2002 truly disturbed and never wanting to turn on my TV again. The images of the spirit responsible for the tape, Samara, with a cloak of long black hair shrouding her monstrous face, stuck with me for weeks. So in 2005 when the previews for The Ring Two hit the airwaves, I could feel a sense of both dread and anticipation boiling within. Even though the first one genuinely frightened me, I had to see where the story would go. When I left the theater after watching The Ring Two, I felt none of the trepidation that hung over my shoulders after the first film. In fact, I basically left the theater with a shrug. Last week I watched it again for the first time in years out of curiosity, and once again I found myself bored, sighing and shrugging the movie away. What went wrong?
The movie begins well enough. It continues the saga of the cursed video tape by opening with a teenager trying to trick a girl from his class into watching his copy so he can be spared from Samara’s wrath, which is in line with the revelation toward the end of the first film that in order to save yourself, you must make a copy of the tape and show it to someone else. However, it turns out the girl had closed her eyes out of fear and did not see it, and the boy’s time is up. He falls to his knees, accepting his fate as Samara crawls from the well, out of the TV, and claims another victim. Scary enough, but after this, it’s all downhill.
Brave reporter Rachel Keller and her son Aiden have moved to this small town after the events of the first film. Working at the town’s newspaper, she hears about the teenager who died and is intrigued by the fact that “they keep talking about his face” (in the first film, victims of Samara were found with grotesque facial expressions). She enters the scene, and after seeing the young man’s horribly warped face, Samara herself appears and tells Rachel, “I found you,” and promptly vanishes. Thus begins the number one problem with The Ring Two: Samara has been turned from a frightening monster into a sad little ghost girl who just wants a mommy.
As the film continues, Samara pursues Rachel and her son so she can worm her way into the family, presumably because she appreciates what Rachel tried to do for her in the first film. Samara eventually succeeds with her plan by actually possessing Aiden, pushing Rachel to dig deeper into Samara’s past so she can save her son. Who was her birth mother? Why was Samara so special? A lot of time is spent on this, and Rachel mostly ends up finding a bunch of cryptic one-liners, such as “you let the dead get in” rather than any real answers. For the amount of time spent on Rachel’s investigation, there is very little payoff.
Eventually, Rachel finds a way to rid her son’s body of Samara’s spirit, although given that Aiden has a more spritely and entertaining personality while she possesses him, I’d almost be tempted to keep her around if I were in Rachel’s shoes. She pretends to drown Aiden, causing Samara’s spirit to leave his body and give Rachel a look of sadness before vanishing away with a splash, because she’s water now, I guess? Anyway, it’s over, right? Not quite. Samara is back, and Rachel allows herself to be pulled into their TV and down into the well. They race up the stone walls, Rachel escapes, a hilariously distorted voice cries “Mommy,” and Rachel shuts the well with a “smile you son of a bitch” style one-liner that inspires eye rolls instead of fist pumps.
I kept finding myself thinking, what’s the big deal? Samara just wants a mommy. The first film briefly led us to believe that Samara was a misunderstood little girl, but then twisted that on us in magnificently frightening fashion when she crawled out of the TV to terrorize and kill Rachel’s friend. That monster left an impression, which is what any good horror movie monster should do. Turning that into something the audience feels sorry for completely wipes away our fear.
Another problem with The Ring Two is that it failed to surprise us. All of the major set pieces are rehashes of the first film—the twisted faces, the creepy sound effects, Samara crawling out of the TV. My audience in 2002 gasped at the shock of seeing the disfigured face of the unfortunate girl from the film’s opening scene. Later, an audience member literally screamed when Samara crawled out of the TV, and no one made fun of her–we were all just as terrified. The Ring built a quiet but intense sense of dread throughout the film, and then walloped us in the end with a shocking finale. The Ring Two had no such build-up, no such surprises, and that is why it stands as one of the most disappointing sequels in horror history.