Japanese director Hideo Nakata finds himself in an odd and possibly unique predicament for his Hollywood debut: directing the sequel to the American remake of one of his own films... To which he's already directed a sequel in his native tongue.
Confusing enough. But what's downright perplexing is Nakata's apparent inability to invest the follow-up to 2002's The Ring with anything more than a glimmer of the arresting visual style and sustained aura of dread that made his original Ringu so phenomenal. You could blame this on Hollywood's tendency to hoover up eclectic and original product from around the world and spit it out in its own image. The list of unassuming foreign classics given a garish Tinseltown makeover is long. But that lets Nakata off the hook. Surely he didn't get this gig just because everyone else was busy that month? It's hard to imagine DreamWorks putting the brakes on someone who pretty much invented this stuff in the first place.
In fact, even though Nakata wasn't their first choice, The Ring Two's producers considered it a major coup when he did sign on - and with some justification. After all, J-Horror had already made a remarkably successful transfer from East to West without the maestro's involvement. True, the first Ring might not have had half the creative juice of its forebear but, in Gore Verbinski's hands, it was still a cut above standard issue Hollywood horror and stayed gratifyingly close to Nakata's blueprint by favouring subtly accumulated suspense and a thick veil of foreboding over eye candy and claret.
But Verbinski lucked out in having an elegantly simple story to tell - a `cursed' video that brings death to whoever sees it unless they can persuade someone else to watch it within seven days. It had accelerating, unforced narrative drive and an ingrained, against-the-clock mystery to solve (where did the tape come from and why is it trying to kill all these people?).
The big mystery here is how Nakata manages not only to do his own film an injustice, but also fashions a wholly unconvincing companion piece to Verbinski's remake. That's not just perplexing, it's weird: Verbinski does Nakata better than Nakata can. He's also done no favours by the fact that the original's sublime high concept has already been played out. For that, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who also wrote The Ring) must shoulder some of the blame. Although he commendably resists re-tooling the killer video plot, what he comes up with instead is a dull and familiar tale of demonic possession.
Naomi Watts (no doubt fulfilling a contractual obligation and looking decidedly listless) returns as reporter Rachel Keller, now living in small-town Oregon with her young son Aidan (David Dorfman) and trying to put the upsetting events of the first film behind her. The fresh start turns sour, however, when a local teen dies in horrifically familiar circumstances and another copy of the video nasty surfaces. Yep, Samara's back - the eeevil little girl drowned in the well and star of the tape. And after Aidan is afflicted with a baffling case of hypothermia, Rachel enlists the help of a local newspaper editor (Simon Baker) and a disturbed psychiatric patient (a nice cameo from Sissy Spacek) to discover what foul designs her nemesis has on her own son.
Quite why Samara has any designs on him at all is explained via the sort of contrived mumbo-jumbo that is endemic to bad sequels, via motivations that have nothing to do with the original since, if they had, we'd at least have had an inkling of them already.
The plot is leakier than Arsenal's defence, with gaping lapses in logic (how exactly does one murder a nurse in the middle of a busy hospital with no repercussions whatsoever?), outrageous contrivance and a heavy reliance on cheap shocks. The characters, Rachel in particular, are thicker than a whale omelette and while many of Nakata's trademark themes are in evidence - nature's malevolence, vengeful spirits, dark water - his heart isn't. The only obviously personal touch is a scene which riffs on his fear of deer and has stags stalking Rachel and son on a lonely highway. And this proves to be the risible nadir - a bad promo for Longleat Safari Park directed by Renny Harlin. The idea is also uncomfortably reminiscent of the horse plunging from the ferry in Verbinski's film, which speaks volumes about the dearth of inspiration that plagues The Ring Two. "It's over honey," says Watts at one point. "She's not coming back." Here's hoping.