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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Ring Two Hideo Nakata 2005

Watch Out for the Wet Spot

2005 will forever be known as the Year of the Bathtub.

First, Hide and Seek plopped a freshly-killed Amy Irving in the drink, and followed up with a still-warm Elizabeth Shue, with some unsightly graffiti on the wainscoting in-between. Then Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz spent a good deal of time with rubber duckie and friends in Constantine, which even went so far as to blow a porcelain tub to smithereens after a dimension-hopping ritual. Then there’s the upcoming Dark Water remake, which – if it’s anything like the Japanese original – features several key scenes involving bathtubs. Even Boogeyman, which even I refused to see, had significant bathtub action. And then there’s The Ring Two, which spends more time in the bathroom than a socialite at Bungalow 8 by boasting not one, but two climactic bathtub scenes. American horror audiences, prostrate yourselves before the Bold Look of Kohler.

With or without bath beads, The Ring Two is a disappointing sequel to a disappointing remake. But I will give it this: it is the wettest film ever made on dry land. Awash in more water-related imagery than a feature-length Brita commercial, “The Ring Two” is certainly interesting to look at thanks to its fascination with moving liquids and strict blue-green palette; but as usual, intriguing visuals are unable to distract from a script that falls somewhere between incomprehensible and ludicrous (“incompricrous”? “ludihensible”?). Naomi Watts is DOA in a performance that shrieks “2-picture contract” – which is a shame, as she’s usually quite good – and even the admirably creepy performance of David Dorfman isn’t enough to make the film feel like anything more than a bunch of incidents strung together with a Scotch tape plot.

The first and biggest mistake of The Ring Two is that it completely abandons the mythology of the original film in favor of a tired creepy-kid possession story. Now, I love a good precocious demon-child as much as anyone else (Damien, Gage from Pet Sematary, any one of The Children), usually because it means that you’re going to see an annoying child actor get shot in the head by the end of the film. But I was a big fan of the videotape virus concept (anyone who watches the tape will die in seven days unless they copy and show the tape to someone else), and here the concept is entirely abandoned. Which makes no sense, really: if the videotapes are still out there and people are being forced to copy and show them to new victims in order to survive (established here in the opening scene, which is quite creepy until the cheesy CGI money shot), wouldn’t this have become some sort of epidemic by this point? If a tape manages to surface in the hands of total strangers in the new town that Rachel (Watts) and her son Aidan (Dorfman) have run off to, it stands to reason that they’re all over the place by this point. But rather than explore this potentially fascinating idea, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, Reindeer Games) decides to ignore this fact completely. It’s preposterous, really – to make this story an intimate mother-son struggle when a terrible evil has been unleashed to spread exponentially throughout the population is stupid, and doesn’t exactly endear these short-sighted characters to the audience.

So basically, instead of a sequel to The Ring (fans of the Japanese sequel Ringu 2 should not even bother – this film bears no resemblance whatsoever), we have a remake of Hideo Nakata’s other big ghost movie, Dark Water – which, oddly, is being remade as we speak starring Jennifer Connelly. I’m not quite sure how the folks behind that film are going to deal with the fact that Ring Two rips off just about everything from their film – including the climactic bathtub bait-and-switch; maybe they’ll hire Ehren Kruger to discard the original and make up something entirely new and far less interesting. Again.

Anyway, so we’re abandoning the whole killer tape thing, and now we’re worried that little Aidan is being invaded my Samara, who now wants to be reborn into a real child – fine. Disappointing, but fine. But despite some poppy visuals (the inverted bathtub scene is pretty neat, all told – and if you like teal, you’re in for a treat from start to finish), there’s very little going on. Aidan’s temperature begins to drop mysteriously (as did mine, due to the slowing of my pulse to near-stopping), and water starts rearranging itself around the house (out of the fishtank, into the bed!), neither of which seem serious enough for Rachel to take the kid to the hospital. Sure, we know she’s a career woman – but is she also a closet Christian Scientist? Fortunately, her negligible parenting skills are called into question when the disposable Max (Simon Baker) catches Rachel drowning Aidan in the tub (she thinks it’s Samara), which leads to a mildly interesting subplot where Rachel is believed to be an unfit mother – which she undoubtedly is, even when she doesn’t drown her kid like a kitten and leave burnt handprints on his back.

Here Rachel is confronted by the disposable Dr. Temple (Elizabeth Perkins, doing her best Bonnie Bedelia), who essentially calls her a crackmother and kicks her out of Aidan’s hospital room, which fortunately frees her up to do a little research and get the plot back on-track. As Aidan’s temperature continues to drop and Samara makes her entrance (via little Aidan), Rachel discovers that the real Samara was adopted and that her birth mother tried to drown her. She hunts down the mama, and in one of the more interesting scenes, we learn that the loony Evelyn (Sissy Spacek) gets visits from troubled mothers like Rachel every few years – again, a glimpse of the interesting film that might have been that deals with the widespread effect of this curse. Anyway, Samara’s mom (we know it’s her birth-mother because they have the same hairstylist) tells Rachel that she’ll have to kill Aidan just like she tried to kill Samara, and if she doesn’t, the curse will spread (again, hasn’t it already? Aren’t the tapes still out there?). It’s just a damned shame to see Spacek reduced to a hair-in-the-face day-player, especially since her character serves no real purpose – but at least a trip to a sanitarium is more thrilling than a standard Internet Search Montage, which is blissfully absent here.

This all leads to a truly befuddling set of mini-climaxes strung together by a tenuous logic that seems made up on the spot (characters seem to die and come back to life every few minutes). And just when you think it’s over, suddenly we’re back in the realm of the original film again and Rachel’s back in the well, scrambling away from an increasingly agile Samara. She delivers one of the worst and most out-of-place Fuck You Punchlines in the history of horror movies, and somehow things end up alright. Which, again, is completely ridiculous – even had the resolution of the story made any sense, and if the film we just watched hadn’t condoned both infanticide, suicide, and monochromatic design palettes, the curse laid out in the original film hasn’t even been addressed. So instead of providing closure or even advancing the story a little, we’re basically left where we started, only a little wetter: Rachel’s still a lousy mom, Aidan’s still precocious and lovably creepy, and the Pacific Northwest is still beautiful to behold.

Fans of the original American remake (does that even make sense?) might find some comfort in a few of the more repetitive elements (the original film’s horse freak-out is echoed – and surpassed – by a bizarre deer incident; the bookend-like beginning and ending are pretty in-line with the first movie), but the point that The Ring Two really drives home is just how tight the original film really was by comparison: driven by the ticking clock of “seven days”, the need to uncover the secret behind Samara’s curse was palpable and the surprises that the search uncovered were occasionally thrilling (and at the very least, unique). Here the events feel like soggy retreads (yes, I said “soggy”).

There is a somewhat oblique queer reading to be had here, as the primary storyline involves a female spirit trying to penetrate a male host (see my recap of The Attic Expeditions in the Homo Horror Guide for a similar plot). In Carol Clover’s excellent “Men, Women, and Chainsaws”, she writes at length about how the possession subgenre is about gender roles being redefined by the emergence of a demon that polarizes the “too feminine” (the penetrated host) and the feminized masculine (the male caretaker, whose redemption is the true purpose of the film – i.e., Father Damien from The Exorcist, Jim and Brandon from Witchboard). Here it’s interesting to see that the vessel is a young boy (who is coded feminine) and the “male” chaperone is a masculinized female (Rachel is a single mother and career woman in a position of power at the local paper). In Clover’s model, the radical over-feminization (“over-openness”) of the victim shifts the entire gender balance, allowing the masculine figure to be “acceptably feminine” by comparison: does Aidan’s being taken over by a vengeful female spirit serve to feminize Rachel by bringing out her maternal instinct? If so, is the entire film merely a mechanism to help Rachel to become a fully-realized female? If so, why the fuck is it in The Ring series as opposed to a Lifetime Original Movie? Even if these ambitions are there, they’re pretty damn misplaced, and are executed at the expense of the continuity of the story. But it does give Dorfman the opportunity to act like a girl for a few scenes, which is scarier than just about anything else in the film.

Rating (out of 5):