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The Ring Two

The Ring Two is about monsters, mothers and lost children.
Every good horror story begins with an aberration – the alien born from a man’s chest, the child molested in his grave, or the thing between the walls that just can’t shut up. The Ring Two has a ghoul named Samara.  
As an infant Samara’s mother attempted to kill her, seeing a devil in her child. Evelyn (Sissy Spacek) tried to drown her baby in the convent where she had sought refuge, but the nuns heard her and intervened. A wealthy couple adopted Samara, but once again they seem to sense – or imagine – a dark power in her, and her stepmother threw her down a well and then committed suicide herself. 
Samara is unwanted, twice murdered, a creature that persists despite the weight of the world crashing down on her. Pushed down into the darkest corner of the imaginary, she gains power paradoxically by being outside of the order, and draws strength from the powers that seek to make her invisible. She returns from the repressed corner of the mind, not only revitalized, but also demonized and vilified. We want our crimes buried beneath the ground and when they return to exact retribution they seem as invincible as imagination.
When Rachel (Naomi Watts) is drawn into the drama in the first Ring by investigating the death of her niece she sets off a series of events that draw the dead girl closer to her own neglected son Aidan (David Dorfman). The Ring Two begins six months after the events of the first film, and Rachel is doing everything she can to become a better parent. She has moved from Seattle, where she was a newspaper reporter for a major paper, to the small in Oregon to work for the local weekly and spend more time with him.
Unfortunately for them, the strange videocassette that depicts murder – and which has the power to kill those who see it – follows them. This time Samara doesn’t merely want to kill Aidan; she wants to replace him, inhabit his body. Aidan begins to have night sweats and hallucinations after a teenaged boy dies showing all the grisly signs of having seen the film, and it isn’t long until Rachel is tracking down the “true” story behind Samara’s death.
(For those who don’t know, one of the reasons Rachel and Aidan survived the first film was by telling Samara’s story, passing the tape along to others, rather than keeping it to themselves.)
Aidan is hospitalized when his body temperature drops suddenly, and while he’s struggling with consciousness something dead moves into his body. 
Rachel meanwhile has found Evelyn and is struggling with her motherly advice on the problem of demonic possession. Of the three mother archetypes presented in the film – Evelyn, Samara’s adopted mother, and Rachel – only Rachel seems to understand the supernatural power she holds over her child. Evelyn wanted to kill her daughter because she saw what was in her, and Samara’s adopted mother didn’t have the courage to do what she felt was necessary in a proper way, but Rachel faces the challenge of the situation and performs the proper burial ritual for the girl, by literally putting herself in the tomb with her. 
On one level the movie confronts right-to-life issues articulated in debates over abortion, postpartum depression or even the Terry Schiavo case. These mothers feel they have a duty and right to end their children’s lives. The well where Samara spent her final seven days is a deadly second womb, and the abortive efforts to bury her correctly have led to a being that represents the ambiguity both of motherhood and of life.
When Rachel asks Evelyn why this is happening to she and Aidan, how she has failed as a mother, Evelyn answers, “You let the dead get in.”  But it’s really Evelyn’s sin that Rachel is paying for, the original mother’s inability to determine where life and death exist in the child. 
The Ring Two is murky and sometimes difficult to decipher, but it’s a great trip for those who enjoy sightseeing with the dead.

 
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Hostage

It’s difficult to make talking on the phone – negotiating – seem like a dramatic act, but we live in an odd age where bad accounting practices bring down industrial giants and loose lips sink Martha Stewart. 
The newest Bruce Willis’ vehicle, Hostage, is paradoxically most interesting when old baldy is out of the picture. Willis plays Jeff Talley, a former LAPD negotiator who has turned his back on big-time crime to pursue a peaceful job in Ventura County among yuppies and hicks after a botched negotiation.
Three teenagers break into a mansion in Talley’s town, intent on stealing a high-priced SUV. Unfortunately for them, the mansion’s owner is a crooked accountant working for the mob and as they’re caught in a string of escalating violence, Talley’s own family is taken hostage to ensure his cooperation. 
Hostage’s visual cues are hard to miss, but it’s not always clear what they mean. After a botched negotiation Talley brings his bloodied hands up to his face and weeps to show that he’s responsible. It’s a heavy-handed but mostly innocuous scene, the cinematic equivalent to a sunset appearing in a sophomore love poem. But other cues – like the tortured death of a young Goth – defy explanation.
A sordid love affair between one of the young criminals and his female hostage is inscrutable. I wasn’t sure a scene in which bondage gear makes an appearance would end in a kiss or bloodshed. This violently romantic infatuation seems out of place in a film so over-invested in familial relationships. And yet this weird teenaged sadomasochistic fling seems almost refreshing against the backdrop of failed marriages – Talley and his wife have a weekend marriage and the Smith family is dismantled – and corporate intrigue. 
Here’s how their relationship works: Mars (Ben Foster), who looks like a bad reinterpretation / misunderstanding of Brandon Lee’s Crow, ties up Jennifer Smith (Michelle Horn) and begins talking sweetly about how he was abused as a child. There’s something in his discourse on pain that seems vaguely thrilling and nocturnal, and Jennifer breaths hard despite herself, nearly splitting her tight, slutty t-shirt.
Several close-ups reveal Jennifer’s sexual interest in her kidnapper: Her lips part sensually as he paces the room smoking dope and her chest heaves at his approach. While the two other youthful criminals are busy debating the moral ambiguity of their situation and exploring their own relationship (they’re brothers), Mars and Jennifer share marijuana in mouth-to-mouth kisses. As Talley tries to scheme a way into the house to save his own mostly-absent family from being killed, Mars and Jennifer retire to her room for more exotic bondage-discipline using a knife as a prop.
The film relishes the opportunity to show women geared up in the latest fetishwear. Pictures of Talley’s bound wife and daughter are passed around like porn and the film lingers over Horn’s body like a blind hand over Braille. Although Jennifer’s kid brother Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) is originally bound up, no one seems to miss the little scamp when he’s gotten loose, and their dad is promptly knocked out to make sure he doesn’t obscure our view of his daughter squirming in ropes of duct tape.
Mars and his cohorts should have kept a closer eye on little Tommy, who scurries through a mouse hole and disappears in the vast labyrinth between the walls of the mansion. Crawling down rope ladders and coming out secret panels, I half expected little Tommy to discover a lost colony of mole people or Willie Wonka’s new Chocolate Factory. 
(It’s hard to feel too bad for the Smiths. What sorts of people invest billions of dollars in surveillance equipment, but don’t notice when their precocious son builds a funhouse between the walls? The answer to this is the same sort of nitwits who invest billions of dollars in surveillance equipment but fail to install sprinklers or a fire alarm. “I’m in my secret place,” Tommy tells Talley on the telephone. I’m sorry folks, but if you can’t keep track of your own kids in your home with the aid of one-way mirrors and a network of closed-circuit television maybe you shouldn’t own them.)
By the time a rival sheriff reads Talley his rights – “Your flagrant disregard for police policy” yada yada yada – the movie has migrated from the region of quiet stupidity to offensively bad. The brutality of the final third of the film almost matches Schwarzeneggar’s last non-Terminator bloodbath and the storyline disintegrates as a key plot device is destroyed. But worse than all of this, the film is utterly humorless, a kind of sadistic machine.
The film takes place in a world of shadow armies, outlaw accountants and bad negotiators but in the end, watching Hostage will make you wish had a ball gag for whoever had the idea of going to see this movie.

 
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