CREEPY: Naomi Watts and David Dorfman.

While one man’s terror is another man’s “so what?” nothing in recent memory has been able to scare me as much as the current crop of Japanese and Japanese-inspired horror. The Japanese, it seems, are willing to forgo fountains of blood and tubs of entrails for the uncanny, utilizing all those modern situations that kind of creep us out, but that we suffer through anyway: mirrors, dark hallways, fuzzy television screens, elevators. For some reason, the idea that there is a paranormal underworld out there just waiting for us to stumble into scares me much more than the biggest chainsaw wielding yokel ever could.
The newest of this crop is “The Ring Two,” a sequel to the mega-successful “The Ring.” Here, six months after she barely survived the events depicted in the first film, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and son Aidan (David Dorfman) have left Seattle behind for what they hope is a fresh start in the picturesque town of Astoria, Ore. With Rachel working at a local newspaper and a blossoming flirtation/friendship with co-worker David (Simon Baker), everything is looking hunky dory.
Until, that is, Rachel goes to cover a homicide and finds a scene that is eerily familiar: a kid dead in front of a television, with a copy of the cursed videotape from the first film in the VCR. (For the uninitiated, the videotape contains the “psychic impression” of a little girl named Samara, who was neglected, tortured, then left to drown at the bottom of a well. In true Japanese horror style, she wants revenge not just on the people who killed her, but also on the whole of humanity. Anyone who watches the surreal videotape dies.)
Soon, Rachel finds that Samara has followed them to their new life, and it soon becomes clear that Samara is trying to possess Aidan. This starts Rachel on a search for answers about the little girl’s life and death, leading her to a psychic mental patient (Sissy Spacek) who might have the answers she seeks.
Nimble and often outright terrifying, “The Ring Two” does have some plot holes (just how Samara found them, for instance, or where the kid in the opening sequence of the movie got the cursed tape, which was apparently destroyed in “The Ring”).
Still, for fans of the horror genre, it’s sure to be a rollicking good time.
— By David Koon
Suburban WASP nests
“Imaginary Heroes” will easily be one of the better films to appear in 2005’s first quarter, the desert season for the movie industry when most of the top 10 films will consist of sloppy Hollywood romances and sex-crazed frathouse humor.
First-time film director Dan Harris has already made his impression in the screenwriting biz by leaguing with director Brian Singer in co-writing “X-2,” and is expected to help in Singer’s next two films. But with a script entirely of his own this time, Harris faces the task of directing it himself.
The scenario of the disaffected suburbanite is familiar territory, but time and time again filmmakers manage to scout out more ground that exposes the underlying guilt and buried pain that haunts the modern family. Ang Lee did it brilliantly in “The Ice Storm,” David Lynch poked at it in “Blue Velvet” and Sam Mendes used it in “American Beauty” — all effective, vastly different films, all with their own inflections crafted into the text.
In this case, we have the Travis family, complete with parents who can’t remember the last time they kissed, and their troubled offspring. The suicide of their eldest son, Matt (Kip Perdue), serves as the story’s prologue, after which the rest of the film follows the emotional trauma and, more or less, recovery of their fractured lives.
What this film offers that others like it don’t is less narcissism and angst, and more charming scenes between Sandra (Sigourney Weaver, also cast in “The Ice Storm”) and her son Tim (Emile Hirsch). A little hope rests in these two as they watch each other’s backs and, unusual in the parent-child dynamic, they are abnormally honest with one another. Tim talks of his love life, Sandy jokes about Matt’s masturbating in the shower, and in one extraordinary scene between the two on a front-porch swing, Sandra says bluntly, “You may never know how good I am for you until I die. I never loved my parents until they died.”
The film has several sub-plots that serve to complement the family’s plight. The story revolves around the kinship between Sandra and Tim, and should have been given more screen time, especially since the script does pull in a few last-minute revelatory plot twists. Several characters, such as neighbors Marge and Kyle Dwyer, who serve as necessary details to understanding the Travis family and are involved in some of the film’s best moments, are nevertheless periphery concerns.
Harris has made a well-crafted film, with thought-out characters and great dialogue, but this is yet another case where too many side stories end up crowding out the real heart of the movie. Perhaps they would have been better placed in a script of their own. But would such projects, no matter how good the outcome might be, ever see the light of day? Probably not.
-– By Dustin Allen