Horror review: Dark Water

Dark Water 2

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JULY 14, 2005

Dark Water is a remake of a Japanese horror film of the same name by Hideo Nakata, the same guy who directed Ringu, and there are similarities to that flick’s Americanized version, The Ring. But instead of a cursed videotape that brings death to its viewers, Dark Water is based on the supernatural premise of haunted water.

And you thought the price of Evian was scary.

Touching on the same anguished persona as her drug-addled character in Requiem for a Dream, Jennifer Connelly stars as Dahlia Williams, a recently separated New York mother desperately trying to find affordable housing in which to raise her five-year-old daughter, Ceci (impressive Ariel Gade). Thanks in part to the machinations of a shady building manager (John C. Reilly), Dahlia settles on a dilapidated apartment on Roosevelt Island-a tram ride away from ritzy Manhattan-in a cruddy building surrounded by similarly depressing, prisonlike structures.

The Williamses try to make the best of their scuzzy new digs, but before long dirty water starts leaking down from an ugly stain on their ceiling, and strange sounds from the apparently vacant apartment above begin preying on Dahlia’s already troubled mind. (She suffered from abandonment issues as a child, and her angry, estranged husband is seeking full custody of Ceci.)

Around this time, the girl starts behaving erratically at school, scribbling wildly and conversing with an imaginary friend. The apartment block’s surly superintendent, Veeck (the miscast Pete Postlethwaite), stands around bug-eyed, spouting “It’s not my job!” as the leak turns into a steady brown flow. The discovery of a Hello Kitty backpack on the roof of the building leads to questions about the sudden disappearance of a young girl and her parents from the apartment where no plumber dares to tread.

Brazilian art-house director Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) skillfully oversees the low-key layering of gloom and dread. Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Affonso Beato (All About My Mother) depicts utter hopelessness in the grime of the concrete jungle to the point where Roosevelt Island may become an attraction for brave tourists on Halloween.

Angelo Badalamenti’s spooky score hits home, and Connelly’s assured performance as the devoted mom struggling to stay afloat in a watery hellhole makes up for the lack of serious scares and all the silly gushing of possessed toilets and taps.

Instead of trying to jolt you at the end with a typical “it’s not over” twist, Dark Water goes for the throat with a heart-wrenching, choke-you-up climax. It’s nice to see that type of emotional resonance in a Hollywood fright flick, but hard-core horror fans may wonder what’s up with the clear liquid seeping from the corners of their eyes.

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