Dark Water

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Pete Postlethwaite, Camryn Manheim, Ariel Gade, Perla Hanley-Jardine
Director: Walter Salles
Writers: Rafael Yglesias (based on novel by Koji Suzuki)
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for frightening images and brief language
Running Time: 105 minutes

Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 6

Total – 6.2 out of 10

DARK WATER is the newest J-horror films (US remakes of Japanese horror flicks) that hits the US market. After the disappointment of THE RING TWO and THE GRUDGE, one only hopes that DARK WATER is better. And it is. Just not good enough.

As Dahlia (Connelly) goes through a bitter divorce and custody battle with her husband Kyle (Scott), she struggles to make ends meet and support her daughter Ceci (Gade). To save on rent and get away from Kyle, Dahlia moves with Ceci to a rundown apartment complex on Roosevelt Island, between Queens and Manhattan. Soon, strange things start to happen: an elevator that insists on stopping on the 10th floor, water that continues to damage their ceiling, a backpack that belongs to nobody, and Ceci’s new imaginary friend Natasha. As Dahlia investigates, she continues to battle her own demons and her deteriorating relationship with Kyle and Ceci. Eventually, Dahlia discovers the awful truth.

Connelly (HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG) looks dreary and gaunt as Dahlia. Her portrayal as the distressed woman-in-trouble and single mother is heartbreaking. Connelly delivers a haunting performance both physically and emotionally. As Ceci, Gade (ENVY) is cute and sweet and you really buy her relationship with Connelly as her mother and you really care about her.

Unfortunately, the supporting cast has little or nothing to do. Reilly (THE AVIATOR) is the 2-dimensional building manager who cares only about money and nothing else. His role serves a narrative purpose and nothing else. Scott (THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE) is angry and detached as Dahlia’s bitter, estranged husband. We really don’t get a sense of why he’s so angry or mean. Postlethwaite (STRANGE BEDFELLOWS) is effectively creepy as the building security/handyman. He has a pivotal role but that fact is not apparent until near the end of the film. Manheim (TWISTED) is wasted as Ceci’s teacher. Her role is rather unnecessary. Jardine (KILL BILL 2) plays Natasha with equal parts of cuteness and creepiness. Roth (THE LAST SIGN) adds certain complexity to the role of a kind-hearted lawyer. Unfortunately, that character complexity is totally wasted in the story.

Adapted from the original Japanese novel and movie, DARK WATER is essentially a psychological thriller with elements of horror and suspense. Slow moving and deeply personal, it fits the mold of the current crop of J-horror films that made the transition to America. Unfortunately, the relative slow pace and lack of scares most probably won’t sit well with American audience, who are oftentimes impatient and thrill-seeking. Writer Yglesias (FROM HELL) manages to capture the dark, dreary, psychological aspects of the story, but fails to make it exciting for the English-speaking crowd. The script is generally dull and uneventful.

Director Salles (MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) brings certain needed skills to pull together a rather sophisticated film. Unfortunately, he made a bad decision to populate every frame of the film with pouring rain or running or dripping water. Granted, that’s the theme of the film, but the overt and prolonged representation of water becomes overbearing and dreary. In fact, the whole film has a very edgy, creepy, and dreary look and feel to it. It could be a good or bad thing depending on your expectation. In a way, this film is all moods but little substance. The filmmakers try too hard to manipulate us to feel certain way -- scared, disturbed, distressed, and isolated. Despite all the flaws, the ending of the film is interesting, unexpected, poignant and sad -- by far the most enjoyable aspect of this very dark film.

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