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Hollow 'Ring Two' scares up few chills

Back in 2002, I spent a lackluster night with ''The Ring," a remake of a wildly popular Japanese film. Naomi Watts was trying to stop people from watching a fatal videotape. It seemed like propaganda against VCRs.

There were trippy images. But there was a serious lack of suspense, too, and I need a lot more buildup to people climbing out of television sets than Watts running around and shrieking. But millions of other horror-jonesed moviegoers begged to differ, and now there's a sequel, ''The Ring Two," which, despite being made by Hideo Nakata, who directed the original Japanese movie, is almost worse.

Watts is back as news reporter Rachel Keller. So is creepy David Dorfman as her pint-size son Aidan. And this time -- sigh -- it's personal. Because Dorfman looks like the sort of child who must already be possessed, there is, alas, a possession. And sooner than you can say ''Omen II" (or Haley Joel Osment), mom is racing around trying to figure why, how, and what on earth to do.

I won't say much more. But there is a lot of water, which seems downright amniotic given the movie's interest in womb-like set pieces and birth canal symbols and general disdain for motherhood, which, admittedly, for a horror movie is just another day at the office.

You can also bet that Samara, the scary-haired, well-dwelling, undead 'tween wraith from the first movie has something to do with the Kellers' troubles. Samara, who was no cookie to begin with, is now so demonic the sequel's credits have taken to calling her Evil Samara.

Nakata is a better director than Gore Verbinski, who oversaw the American remake. Verbinski had no sense of mood or atmosphere and seemed uncomfortable with the ominous stillness these movies require.

Yet Nakata is himself too relaxed, and his use of quiet never builds into exhilarating action. There are two or three mildly exciting sequences. One involves a group of deer that ram into Rachel and Aidan's Volkswagen. Still, even that is underwhelming. Tea gardens are more chaotic than most of ''Ring Two."

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger has written junk like ''Reindeer Games" and the unpolished gem that was ''Scream 3," movies that have a jolting surprise somewhere. ''Ring Two" doesn't have any. Instead, he and Nakata seem to have worked out a deal wherein the director is allowed to do whatever he wants as long as the writer dumps an explanation for it into a character.

This half-explains the trip to the asylum where a loon -- played by Sissy Spacek as an overmedicated Carrie White -- gives Rachel valuable advice that sounds pretty useless to us.

The movie's torpid pacing and blocks of dead space will leave plenty of time for a bored and frustrated audience to yell obscenities at the screen. An uneventful trip to snoop around a dank basement could double as an opportunity to tell Watts, who commits her worst acting to date, how dumb her character is -- as a journalist, as a mother, and as a potential victim -- which even for this genre is saying a lot.

We go to a horror film for an involuntary shock or an ecstatic release, and people desperate for a real one in a movie that has none will settle for doing it themselves, instead. During the screening I was at, someone crept up on a girl in the front row, and she let out a good scream.

It wasn't as good as Watts's, but it made me jealous anyway. So, utterly dissatisfied with ''Ring Two," I went home after and crept up on myself.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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