Unfamiliar Ring 

The creepy original takes a startling turn in "The Ring Two."

There are a few moments like this when "The Ring Two" seems to be skipping gleefully into the subversive territory of a Paul Verhoeven film. Unfortunately, there is no such fixed intent in this latest work by director Hideo Nakata, who helmed the Japanese originals "Ringu" and "Ringu 2." Rather, there are a number of different plot elements and visual styles, all clumsily bumping into each other and blindly running off cliffs. Nakata goes for every trick in the book — with his camera, his storytelling approach and even his actors. He informs us of his intentions from the beginning when he abruptly changes color schemes from Gore Verbinski's stark expanse of grays and greens to a palette that is more vibrant and, like everything that follows, less evocative of anything in particular.

The plot concerns what's become of Samara (Daveigh Chase in archival footage and Kelly Stables as her stunt double), the evil young girl who terrorized Rachel and her son, Aidan (David Dorfman), from the innards of a foreboding videotape in "The Ring." The overwhelming sense of dread in that first movie derived from its deranged central mystery. Like a Nancy Drew story written in hell, intensely alarming clues led to disturbing conclusions. Whether you liked the movie or not, it's hard to deny that the least interesting part was the moment when the mystery was solved: Samara crawls from her tape and, like a hundred other zombie creatures, hobbles after people. That's the mundane reality at the end of most horror movies, and of fear in general. What's in the attic doesn't terrify us half as much as the uncertainty of venturing inside.

The problem with "The Ring Two" is that it begins in the attic. Samara's ghost is back to take over a living body. She makes a number of appearances — in corners, windows and photographs. We find her scratching up a wall here, jumping out of a corpse over there, her intentions being anyone's guess. The director, probably realizing before his audience that Samara by herself is worth at best a cheap shock or two, begins experimenting with visuals meant to heighten our apprehension. There are swish pans around Rachel and Aidan, slow-motion shots of playgrounds, countless allusions to the mysterious symbolism of the original (though what's the point when it's no longer a mystery?) and a totally tripped-out sequence involving enraged deer. It's all alternately too weird and pretty to be scary, but more important, what is it all supposed to mean? Nakata doesn't seem to know, and when he throws Sissy Spacek into the pot, the venerable actress seems like one more dash of empty spectacle.

"The Ring Two" is a mishmash of symbolic nonsense and visual crud, but Nakata can take comfort knowing he has many ancestors. "The Amityville Horror" and "The Exorcist" were both very spooky tales that imploded during their final battles with evil, and neither made very good sequels. Even "Rosemary's Baby," the Rosetta stone of creepiness, seems silly after Satan appears with his horns. Only Stanley Kubrick seems to have gotten it right. He suggested with "The Shining" that the supernatural substance we should be afraid of most is the crazy soup bubbling between our ears. Nakata has bowls of it to spare. His somewhat charming original idea has now spawned four movies and counting. Perhaps this genius or madness or whatever you call it will rise from the grave once again. ** S

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