Never have I seen New York City look so dank and depressing. The white rain comes down in speckled sheets outdoors, and then leaks in black, sludgy drops indoors. There are times during Walter Salles’ remake of Dark Water (another import from Japan) where we wonder if it will ever stop raining. We wonder if, just for maybe an instant, the sun sneaks through a ray of light. But how would the ceiling leak drops of dark memories past if it stopped raining?
Dark Water is a stellar psychological thriller. Much like The Jacket, Dark Water is being mis-marketed as a horror film in the spirit of The Ring and The Grudge, among others. It has all the familiarities of the genre; the scary kid who sees things, the woman with the troubled past, eerie noises in the night, and most of all, water, which is oh-so imperative in Japanese horror films.
As the film begins, Dahlia (Connelly) is in the middle of a bitter divorce with her husband, Kyle (Scott). Caught in the mix is little Ceci (Gade), the bright young daughter whom both parents want custody of. To escape things, Dahlia decides to take Ceci and get an apartment on Roosevelt Island, just minutes from New York City. It seems perfect, after all. It’s real close to a wonderful school and it’s an easy commute for Dahlia to work.
The place is shown to them by the ever-cheery Mr. Murray (Reilly, in another fabulous character role), whose idea of a country kitchen involves a fold-up table. The droopy Veeck (Postlethwaite) is the super, but he’s hardly of any help when things get dicey. The building itself is a decrepit mess, decorated in dark greens and browns and seemingly engulfed in mildew. But, it’s available and it fits their needs. What else would one expect for the bargain New York City rent of $900/month?
It doesn’t take long for Ceci to notice the leak in the ceiling from which a dark water falls from. The apartment above theirs has been vacant for months, and repeated attempts to stop the leak fail. Strange noises ensue and deep, buried secrets soon boil to the surface.
Salles, hot off the critically acclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries, has crafted a moody, even Gothic, psychological thriller that never fails to hold the viewer’s interest. He makes brilliant use of the barren surroundings and piles the dread on so thick that at times it is unbearable. His use of symbolism is pristine, and it will probably take many viewers a second viewing to catch all of it. The pace is leisurely and the buildup smooth and efficient. There are very few cheap scares and more than a few legitimate ones.
It is the cast, however, that really pushes Dark Water past the recent lot of Japanese remakes. Jennifer Connelly has the “woman-in-distress” gig down to an art, and she is the thread holding this entire project together. She brings a sense of the everyday to Dahlia, a troubled woman who simply wants to be the best mother she can. Connelly has always had a “girl next door” quality and she can bring depth to a role simply with her eyes. She turns in another superb effort here. The supporting cast is the best we have seen out of the recent lot of remakes, with John C. Reilly proving once again that he is one of the best character actors around. He provides the sole comedic relief as Murray, and most of the time we feel like slapping the cheeriness right out of him since his building is such a dump. Tim Roth gives a nice, controlled performance as Platzer, Dahlia’s attorney. He’ll assuredly raise some eyebrows, as he has a few secrets of his own. Pete Postlethwaite is essentially giving the audience a wink in every scene he’s in as the shady Veeck. There’s a clear undertone of Postlethwaite eating up this role as the unusual handyman. Newcomer Ariel Gade, who was last seen in 2004’s Envy (the smart money says you never saw that one), shows excellent command of the screen as the confused Ceci.
Dark Water will be familiar territory for the seasoned film goer, especially one who is up to speed on their Japanese horror. The film still manages to be a clear cut above the rest with Salles’ patience behind the camera and a superb cast in front of the camera. If you’re yearning for a solid psychological thriller, this is the ticket for this summer.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language.
Theatrical Release: July 8, 2005
Directed by: Walter Salles
Written by: Rafael Yglesias. Based upon the screenplay for the film “Honogurai mizu no soko kara.” Original novel by Kôji Suzuki.
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Pete Postlethwaite, Ariel Gade