Dark Water (2005)
There’s dripping water. Leaking water. Spraying water. Swirling water. Flooding water. Even a water tower. And what does it all add up to? Unfortunately, not much. Dark Water is another American remake of a successful Japanese suspense film that barely misses the mark and stumbles over its own intent to thrill. And it’s a shame. Filled with engaging performances, a moody New York atmosphere, and a suspenseful second act, the film completely derails around the sixty-minute mark and clumsily screeches to a halt with a misguided climax. A climax, I might add, that goes on for scene after bungled scene.
In an attempt to piece together some semblance of a life after her messy divorce, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly, Phenomena) finds a new apartment and a new lease on life on New York’s Roosevelt Island. Side note: having lived in New York City for a number of years, I can attest that the apartment in this film is nothing if not reality-based. The film is full of little touches like that. Back to the plot: Though a messy custody battle clouds their lives, Dahlia and her five-year-old daughter, Ceci, attempt to adjust to their new surroundings. Unfortunately, strange occurrences (most involving—you guessed it—dark water) prevent them from doing so.
One of Dark Water’s strongest elements is Ms. Connelly’s performance. No stranger to the more abstract side of filmmaking, she seems content lately to play characters in mental turmoil. That’s just fine with me. She is a master at broken, unstable individuals who are capable of amazing feats. Her performance in this film is just as nuanced and thought provoking as any of her work in recent, more “serious” films.
The supporting cast is also dressed to impress: John C. Reilly is surprisingly effective as a sleazy building manager; Tim Roth has great chemistry with Connelly as the lawyer who comes to her rescue; and Pete Postlethwaite chews the scenery and possibly some baby’s teeth as a reptilian superintendent. Unfortunately, Ariel Gade is only serviceable as little Ceci but, on the plus side, she really looks like Connelly’s daughter.
I've heard some rumblings amongst other online critics that Dark Water was a box office failure because it was advertised as a horror film rather than a human drama; that the horror stuff is incidental to the plot. Someone should tell the filmmakers, because it sure seems to me like they wanted to make a suspense story. And if the American remake of The Grudge is considered horror, this is surely a horror film. In fact, for a small majority of its runtime, the film manages to be quite scary, which is quite an accomplishment considering the fact that it’s about evil water and all.
The problem with Dark Water is that for all of its outstanding acting and honest attempts at cinematic terror, it fails because of its banal and derivative script (written by the sometimes fabulous, sometimes not Rafael Yglesias, From Hell). The film wants to be too many things: a character study, a suspense film, a family drama, and a supernatural thriller. I’m all for horror films that attempt to have developed characters, but Dark Water dwells on the misery of its characters to an unnecessary degree. And then dwells some more. By the time the dark water is explained, it's far too late. All interest in the mystery is exhausted at least twenty minutes before the film goes for broke with its would-be devastating climax. And please don't misunderstand: I love long movies, and slow movies for that matter, but this movie—for its very slim concept—is just too long and too slow for its own good. I had a very similar problem with The Grudge, but that film had a lot less going for it to begin with, in my opinion.
I almost feel guilty not recommending Dark Water. It’s composed of numerous well-crafted or intriguing elements, and it may very well be a better film than much of what was released for horror junkies in 2005. But I can’t get over the dreary editing and repetitive script. So, if you think those elements won’t bother you, then by all means, watch this puppy. Otherwise, if you’ve seen The Grudge or The Ring or The Skeleton Key or... well, if you didn’t like any of those films, stay away from this one.