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Spookier sequel

Above: Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) struggles with evil Samara (Kelly Stables) in
Above: Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) struggles with evil Samara (Kelly Stables) in "The Ring Two." Below: Aidan (David Dorfman) shares a scary connection to Samara. (Photos courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures / The Spokesman-Review)
Christy Lemire Associated Press

“The Ring Two” has a B-movie premise with grade-A production values, making it tenser, moodier, scarier and all-around better than you’d expect from a sequel – especially the sequel to a horror movie that didn’t get universally ringing endorsements the first time around (especially not from this typist).

Yes, the original “Ring” from 2002 made scads of money – $129 million, to be exact. By now haven’t you learned that big box office isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality?

But “Ringu,” the Japanese movie that was the basis for “The Ring,” was onto something. It’s the highest-grossing film in Japan’s history, and it launched an entirely new horror genre.

Hideo Nakata, the director of “Ringu,” makes his American film debut here. And that makes a huge difference. He seems comfortable letting the pacing play out slowly, and not so interested in gimmicks or quick, cheap scares – though a couple will make you jump out of your seat.

Oh, it’s still based on a totally ridiculous idea, this nonsense about a little girl who’s been dumped down a well but still manages to communicate through supernatural video production. It did then and does still beg the question: If she can manipulate technology in such a sophisticated fashion, why can’t she get herself out of there?

Anyway, the spooky little girl Samara is back, and so is Naomi Watts’ character, girl-reporter Rachel Keller, as the target of her terror. Having survived the first film’s deadly videotape attack six months earlier, Keller has moved from Seattle to a small town in Oregon to start over.

David Dorfman, who’s also back from the original as Rachel’s young son, Aidan, now has graduated from the Haley Joel Osment School of Kid Movie Creepiness and is working on his master’s degree.

He becomes the human vessel through which Samara manifests herself, which includes a visually stunning scene in which bathtub water flies upward from his body and hovers like an upside-down pool on the bathroom ceiling.

Others who have the misfortune of coming into contact with her are rendered fatally paralyzed mid-scream, like figures in an Edvard Munch painting.

An even more special effect is far simpler. Not to give it away, but it’s a cameo that will bring “Carrie” to mind.

Watts is solid here as she is in everything – believably frightened and protective, with grace under pressure and a natural ability to connect with the audience.

But she and Dorfman and the aforementioned mystery performer are bogged down by the contrived, often clunky scares of returning writer Ehren Kruger’s script.

The movie is more effective when it’s about a mother and her child and the intangible spiritual phenomena plaguing them. When it becomes too literal toward the end, focusing on the evil that sprouts from their TV set, it confirms that you really can go to the well one too many times.

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