The latest Hollywood "J-horror" remake has impeccable credentials. Naomi Watts and David Dorfman are back as the mother and son who are terrorized by an evil spirit, as is screenwriter Ehren Kruger. More important, Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu, the Japanese film that started the series, is on board to helm this sequel to 2002's The Ring, a DreamWorks hit that caught a lot of the industry by surprise.

It's six months after the previous film, and newspaper reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts) has retreated to the small Oregon town of Astoria with her young son Aidan (David Dorfman). She hopes the past is behind her, but a brutal death suggests that the evil spirit of murdered orphan Samara (Kelly Stables) has returned. Rachel destroys a videotape that kills those who watch it, but can't prevent her son from sinking into a hypothermic state that could be the result of demonic possession.

One of the beauties of the Ring plots is that many of the scenes make sense even with the occult elements stripped away. To those unwilling to accept Rachel's explanations, it looks as if she is abusing her son. Nakata and Kruger develop this to great effect when child-services doctors start to investigate the hospitalized Aidan. Nakata continues another Ring trait by upending conventional expectations. "I love you, Mommy" becomes a deadly threat, and Sissy Spacek shows up in a fright wig to extol the virtues of infanticide.

The Ring Two manages to repeat just about every shock from the original, but the eerieness of the first film has been replaced by a more pedestrian, plot-driven story. Instead of depicting a vaguely unsettling world apparently infected with a deadly virus, this time it's personal between Rachel and Samara. Watts' lovely features and carefully calibrated performance help alleviate some bumpy plot turns, while Dorfman is consistently impressive in the difficult role of Aidan.

Nakata's horror films downplay gore to concentrate on atmosphere, best exemplified by a prowling, restless camera that more often than not finds water seeping under doors or through rotting walls. He scares audiences without grossing them out, and Hollywood is betting that his tactics will remain lucrative. Those who feel that the director may have gone to the well once too often will soon get to contemplate the Hollywood remake of his Dark Water.