Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

In the last couple of years, there have been a few movie made here in the US that were remakes of Japanese horror films. First came The Ring (2002), in which Naomi Watts was scared witless by a mysterious supernatural force on a videotape. Then came The Grudge (2004), in which Sarah Michelle Gellar was scared witless by a mysterious supernatural force in the attic. And now we have Dark Water (2005), in which Jennifer Connelly is scared witless by a mysterious supernatural force in the apartment above hers. And while the original Japanese version of Dark Water was done by the same horror specialist (Hideo Nakata) whose work also inspired the Ring movies, it was a very different movie. Dark Water is a movie about characters, emotions, and depth, as much as it is about scaring you. While there are some jump-scares in it, the movie is lacking in the kind of outright fright that dominated The Ring and The Grudge. I liked Dark Water better.


As Dark Water opens, Dahlia Williams (Connelly) is splitting up with her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott), and needs to find a new home for herself and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). Her search takes her to Roosevelt Island, where a building’s landlord (John C Reilly) cheerfully shows them a flat that could be the New York equivalent of the house in Amityville Horror. The entrance hall to the building is dark and dank. The building’s super (Pete Postlethwaite) lurks in the office like a troll under a bridge. The elevator has a mind of its own, and seems inclined to want to devour little girls and their mothers. The rooms of the apartment are dark and dank, though the landlord speaks optimistically about how a new coat of paint will really brighten up the place.

Little Cici, who says the building is “yucky” is right on target. However, the building is only two blocks away from one of the City’s best schools, the rent is right, and Dahlia is desperate. 


Problem is, that stain in on the ceiling seems to have sort of taken on a life all its own, as if it were eating up the apartment. And what to do about the story of the tenants of apartment 10-F, right above them, who just up and left some time ago? What went on in this building? Who is the imaginary friend Ceci seems to have made, a little girl who shares the same name with the missing girl from 10-F? Dahlia seems to have fears of abandonment from her own childhood, and we wonder if she will allow her own child to be endangered. This movie offers very few safe harbors! And a trip upstairs reveals unspeakable horrors as well.


The movie is directed by Walter Salles, who has achieved a careful balance between being full of spooky frights, and being a character study. Instead of rushing from scare to scare, the story allows the spookiness to develop naturally, usually a result of the relentlessly dark mood of the place. The film has a dark visual style that matches the building’s inescapable and all-consuming gloominess. The acting is effective, and the cinematographer, Affonso Beato, succeeds in making the stain on the ceiling look like an evil being, and not just a leaky sink. The climax of Dark Water is over-the-top, and we’re never quite sure how all the parts of the mystery fit together, but then again, the movie is about the horror of the mystery, not about its solution (just like The Grudge). Most important, I cared about the Dahlia character, as the mother of a daughter just trying to make everything work out OK.


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