Dark Water (2005) / Thriller-Horror

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing images, themes, and some language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ariel Gade, John C, Reilly, Peter Postlethwaite, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Camryn Manheim, Perla Haney-Jardine
Director: Walter Salles
Screenplay: Rafael Yglesias (based on the novel, "Honogurai mizu no soko kara" by Koji Suziki")
Review published July 13, 2005

Dark Water is the American version of a film with the same English title from 2002, written and directed by Hideo Nakata, and based on the novel from Koji Suzuki, the author also responsible for the "Ring" novels.  Like its predecessors, The Ring and The Grudge, this Japanese-turned-English-language film, directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station), is a dark and haunting mystery, heavy on atmosphere and creepy imagery.  Also like those films, something gets lost in the translation, as what might work within the confines of a modestly budgeted Asian film seems all too ridiculous when big stars and budgets get injected into the mix.  The flaws may be the same, but they are amplified, as we expect much more for our dollars than to see a slow moving mood piece that has this mild a payoff.  Even with the flaws, the fact that we've seen this sort of film already, whether in the Japanese form or in similar American vehicles, makes Dark Water seem stale and boring without something new to add to the genre.

Jennifer Connelly (House of Sand and Fog, Hulk) stars as Dahlia, a recently divorced mother of eight-year-old Ceci (Ariel Gade, Envy), who moves into a New York tenement only to find that there are some problems going on with the plumbing.  Water is seeping through the ceiling in her bedroom, water from the faucets turns dark in color, and the landlord (Reilly, The Aviator) insists that a plumber isn't necessary, having his super (Postlethwaite, The Lost World) perform some shoddy patchwork to remedy the situation temporarily.  Just as her apartment seems to be caving in, so does Dahlia's life, with a heated custody battle with her estranged husband (Scott, Enigma), her daughter Ceci talking to an imaginary friend she insists is real, and recurring nightmares involving her mother that never showed her any real love as a child. 

Dark Water is one of those movies where, even if you were to suspend your disbelief about the existence of supernatural events, it has an implausibility factor in the common things that mars the ability to properly enjoy it on its own simple terms.  In this film you really have to buy the fact that a woman would actually rent an apartment that shows obvious signs of being run by a slumlord before she ever signs the lease.  You then have to believe that after witnessing weird things going on with the plumbing that are horribly disturbing at best, and other-worldly at worst, that she would not only stay in the apartment, but also investigate these things herself.  She even goes into the apartment above her, which is flooded from wall to wall with the dark icky water, and despite some strange visions, she continues to snoop around with complete stoicism.  It's also obvious that the conditions are having an adverse effect on her daughter, the likes of which may leave her emotionally disturbed or scarred, and yet she still continues to rationalize all of this, ironically, without any rationale at all.   In short, it's a crock, and just doesn't work as a good story.

Dark Water has only one strong thing going for it, and that's a all-encompassing feeling of dankness and  depression that goes well with the kind of story it is.  Creepy lighting, haunting cinematography, and sparse music all add to the goose bump raising aesthetics, and if a better story could have been written here, the solid cast and production values would have easily made this a solid entry in the passive neo-horror genre.   Alas, the story is dull, and worse, it's dumb, and perhaps worst of all, none of it holds any water (no pun intended). 

Dark Water really stretches out its thin material far more than it should, and at over 100 minutes, it still feels a half hour too long.  As an episode of "Twilight Zone" or any one of its ilk, this would have made for a fascinating shorter film, and would not have suffered from the heavy padding and flaccid side stories that bog all momentum down to a crawl.  What should have caused quite a splash ends up barely making a ripple in yet another American remake that fails to translate.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo