If it's a given that it is difficult to make a truly great horror film in modern times, then saying that it's hard to make a satisfying sequel seems like a huge understatement. So often are wonderful horror films followed by sub-par sequels that it's become somewhat expected that follow-ups simply cannot attain the heights of their predecessors. While RING (sequel to the spectacular Japanese shocker RING) does not necessarily destroy that notion, it certainly does bend it in unique and interesting ways, and provides a scary if not completely solid conclusion to the RING saga.
While the first RING (much to its credit) was quite narrow in its story and vision, RING is full of an assortment of widely divergent characters, themes, and visuals. Sequels have to be bigger than their predecessors in order to succeed. You can't simply show the same thing again and expect results to be as good. Slasher sequels have to up the body count; the BATMAN movies add more villains, etc. In the case of RING, a film about a psychological terror and the cursed video through which it lives, a sequel could go in many directions, from following the further exploits of its surviving characters to exploring the very nature of the cursed video itself. RING actually attempts to cover both of those angles at once, along with several other interesting ideas. It's almost too ambitious for its own good, trying to tie together so many elements in its big final moments that the end result -- as good as it might be for its own unique reasons -- fails to have as much punch as the first film.
Story-wise, there really is a lot to like about RING . It's a film that seemingly has a life of its own; you really never know where it's going to go next. Unlike a lot of cliche-ridden sequels, RING never takes the easy route, which is both good and bad at the same time. It's fresh, daring, and can often yield unexpected turns (something that is certainly good for a 'shock' movie); nevertheless, it can also leave the viewer feeling somewhat stranded, unsure of exactly who to empathize with and wondering which story is the main one. Still, RING 's ability to pack a lot of key characters into its relatively short running time AND have each of their stories pan out fairly well deserves a lot of respect. And while certain elements (the scientific study of the ghostly curse and its real-world ramifications, which comes across a little too Cronenberg-inspired) aren't as good as others (the relationship between reporter Mai and his desperate teenage confidant), the film still manages to satisfy in the end.
Part of the reason RING doesn't fall apart is due to the fact that despite its misgivings, it still does what a horror film is first and foremost supposed to do, and that's BE SCARY. Moments in RING are every bit as frightening as the scary scenes in the first film; certainly enough so to make up for a crowded storyline and somewhat convoluted conclusion. In fact, it's arguable that the film might even be scarier at times than the first RING, an aspect that even some of the best horror sequels can seldom claim.
Furthermore, this sequel's direct relation to the first film -- and the overall story arc of the entire saga -- is quite refreshing. The things that happen to and between Reiko and her son Yoichi in RING are not just rehashes of what took place in RING, but rather logical progressions given their characters and what we have seen them go through. Yoichi begins to develop psychic abilities, a straight correlation to the backstory of Sadako and her mother that began the entire RING saga. In addition, he is a young boy that has been exposed to one of countless copies of the cursed videotape circulating down the chain -- a videotape that was interestingly originated by a young boy. These and other compelling elements help keep RING from falling into the usual downward slide of most sequels, and more than make up for the lesser portions of the film.
RING can definitely not be called a stand-alone film, but as a continuation of the story began in the first RING, it succeeds quite well. Gone is the straight-forward and time-driven narrative of the first film, replaced here by so many varied stories and themes that it may be hard to keep up. It is an extremely different film altogether from the original, but nonetheless one that is equally (if not more) frightening.