Dark Water (2005)

"Very Good"

Dark Water (2005) Review


As perhaps a concession to the modern age, the haunted-house story Dark Water is set not in some gloomy old mansion but in the claustrophobic confines of a dank apartment building, and it's all the better for it. But in many other ways the film is a fairly classic scary story, albeit one that heightens a mood of mournfulness over incessant spine-straightening scares. Fresh off the wide acclaim for his young Che Guevara travelogue The Motorcycle Diaries, director Walter Salles seems an odd choice for this, his first Hollywood project. But it's a similar transition to that taken by another South American, Alejandro Amenábar, who he came to Hollywood and made The Others, another solidly classical spooker gussied up with sharp talent and moody atmospherics.

And Dark Water (a remake of Hideo Nakata's 2002 film Honogurai mizu no soko kara) is nothing if not moody. It begins in the gloom of a divorce, with just-separated Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and Kyle (Dougray Scott) fighting over who is going to live where - shared custody of their young girl Ceci (Ariel Gade) making commuting a big issue. Righteously furious Dahlia needs a cheap place near a good school and so ends up looking at a place on Roosevelt Island, the apartment-block-choked strip of land in the East River that makes most Manhattanites shudder and think, "There but for the grace of my broker, go I..." She and Ceci tour a grim apartment there with a chatty manager (a spot-on John C. Reilly) who tries to talk up the depressing view of rain-shrouded towers and smokestacks and the building's neo-Fascist architecture; only Reilly could say "Brutalist" with such perfectly smarmy cheer.

Even though this is a truly dreadful place to live - what with the Soviet-era ambience, leaking ceiling and creepy maintenance man (Pete Postlethwaite, with his usual flinty attitude and another indefinable accent) - since this is a scary movie, it's clear that Dahlia is going to do the unintelligent thing and sign the lease anyway. But unlike most movies of the kind, Rafael Yglesias' script at least gives numerous reasons for this happen: besides the excellent school two blocks away and the $900 rent, there's also the little fact that after touring the place (and briefly disappearing to sneak up to the roof) the previously reluctant Ceci all of a sudden falls in love with it and pushes to move in.

Once the pair are moved in, Salles begins to steadily chip away at the film's already fuzzy sense of reality. The faucets spit out the same cruddy water that keeps leaking from the supposedly empty apartment upstairs, where footsteps thud at odd hours of the night. Meanwhile, Dahlia pops pills to help her migraines, Ceci plays with a new and very possessive imaginary friend, and all the while, nary a sunbeam is seen. Connelly channels her natural moroseness into a singularly tragic madness that, during her performance's better moments, recalls Catherine Deneuve in Polanski's Repulsion.

Dark Water's admirable simplicity and all-enveloping mood (helped along by Angelo Badalamenti's shivery score) are undercut at times by a script that is far from polished. The supporting cast, while ably played, are mostly kept at caricature level and sometimes left completely dangling, as is the case with a lawyer (Tim Roth) hired by Dahlia for her divorce, who seems inexplicably interested in her well-being. Ultimately, though, this doesn't detract too much from a handsomely constructed fable that substitutes sadness for the usual shock value.

Take care of that leak, ladies.



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