I found Dark Water slow and gloomy, with a lengthy buildup to a less-than-satisfying conclusion.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Maybe if "Dark Water" had appeared, say, five years earlier, it would have made a bigger impact; but as it is, the story of a beautiful divorced woman, her strange little girl, some mysterious dripping water, and the possibility of ghosts sounds awfully familiar. I suppose we should expect a feeling of deja vu, given that this 2005 release comes from the same novelist, Koji Suzuki, who penned "The Ring" and "The Ring 2" several years earlier, and that it's a remake of a Japanese picture. Any similarity among the stories is not purely coincidental.

Frankly, I looked forward to something more, something better, from Suzuki and from screenwriter Rafael Yglesias ("From Hell") and director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), all writers and filmmakers whose previous work I had liked a lot. Instead, I found "Dark Water" slow and gloomy, with a lengthy buildup to a less-than-satisfying conclusion. Indeed, it seems as though the film is all buildup, and if that's the route the filmmakers wanted to take, it's OK with me, but they might have made it pay off more suitably for the all the time and trouble they put one through. With this film, the screenplay practically telegraphs the ending an hour ahead of time, and to our dismay it's just as mundane as we'd worried it might be. In this regard, think of Robert De Niro's "Hide and Seek," but without so much silly, violent behavior.

The "Dark Water" plot centers almost entirely on one woman, Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly), a newly divorced mother, who with her young daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade), moves into a large apartment complex announced as thirty-odd years old (about the same age as Dahlia, a coincidence lost on me). Dahlia and Ceci move into the ninth floor of the ten-story central building and immediately begin to experience weird occurrences. First, the floor above theirs begins to drip water. Constantly. Then, they hear noises from upstairs, from an apartment whose occupants, two parents and a little girl about Ceci's age, are supposedly "away." After that, Ceci starts playing with an imaginary, invisible friend.

Meanwhile, the ex-husband, Kyle (Dougray Scott), tries to make Dahlia move closer to where he lives so he can see his daughter more conveniently, insisting to the divorce mediators that Dahlia is "crazy," "insane," inhabiting a world of her own. Well, Dahlia is certainly troubled. She's recently divorced; she's in a goofy, drippy, noisy apartment building; she gets migraine headaches; she has nightmares; and she has her own tormented past to contend with, a past that includes a mother who was unappreciative and a father who abandoned her. So, are the problems she's experiencing now merely figments of her fevered imagination, is she going crazy as her ex-husband claims, or is the building really haunted?

Dahlia's distress is compounded by the fact that she does not appear to have any close friends or relatives, no one to turn to. The apartment landlord, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), is of little help to her, passing the buck at every turn. The building superintendent, Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), is even less helpful, being grumpy, noncommunicative, and not a little lazy. And the father is no help whatsoever, wanting only to arrange Dahlia's life for his own comfort, going so far as to hire a lawyer to get the woman to move closer to where he lives.

To defend herself, Dahlia hires her own lawyer, Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth), probably the most enigmatic character in the film. The credits list Roth third, but he has very little screen time and enters the picture about halfway through. He seems to be the only person who cares at all about Dahlia, but, then, he's being paid to care. He works out of his car, saying his office is being painted. And when Dahlia calls him one evening for advice, he tells her he's busy with his family when, in reality, he's alone. The movie leads us to believe that something will come of this character, perhaps a love interest, yet nothing does. It's as if the scriptwriter had wanted to develop him in some way but because of time or money, he had to leave the characterization unfinished.

Nothing about the film seems to go anywhere. Despite some fine performances, "Dark Water" gets depressing fast, especially with the claustrophobic apartment-house sets, the constant drips, and the incessant rain. It's atmospheric, to be sure, but that's about all it is, only in the last ten minutes or so coming even remotely close to anything scary; yet even here it's more weird than shocking or frightening. In the meantime, we wait for the big payoff that never comes.

Drama? Not much. Melodrama? Too much. Horror? Never.

Incidentally, the version of the movie I watched is labeled "Unrated," although I could not determine why. I didn't see the theatrical version, so I can't say what was added or subtracted. I can only tell you that the Buena Vista press site lists the movie at 105 minutes, while the keep case for the unrated version and my DVD player's readout claim 103 minutes. The unrated version is shorter? In any event, the unrated version contains no sex, no nudity, no more than a couple of profanities, and no blood, gore, or excessive violence. I haven't a clue.

Buena Vista's anamorphic transfer of this film retains most of its wide 2.35:1 original aspect ratio, and it measures out nicely across the screen. The high bit rate makes itself known early on in the opening shots, with very deep black levels and sharp contrasts. Considering how dark a film it is, there is good definition and there are quite natural-looking colors. Whatever light grain one sees is probably inherent to the print and intentional in creating the film's gloomy tone, whereas moiré effects, wavy lines, are almost totally absent.

The keep case announces an "Enhanced Home Theater Audio Mix," followed on a second line by "Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound," which makes it seem as though they are two different things. But, in fact, there is only the one audio mix, DD 5.1, presumably remixed for the DVD. In any case, it sounds good, with plenty of deep bass, a wide front-channel stereo spread, and a lot of surround activity. Voices are firmly anchored out in the center channel, but you'll hear rain and dripping water all around the listening area. The sound is quite the best part of the show.

An array of featurettes accompany the movie. The first is "Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water," a five-part sequence that the user can access separately or all at once, lasting about fifteen minutes total and providing commentary from the various filmmakers. Next is "The Sound of Terror," seven minutes on the sound effects and music in the film. After that are two deleted scenes, about two minutes' worth, and then the main featurette, "An Extraordinary Ensemble," twenty-five minutes with the actors and others. Most of this material struck me as self-congratulatory, promotional stuff wherein the filmmakers tell you what they were attempting to do and how well they accomplished it, irregardless of their actual degree of success. Still, there is much good information one can learn about the filmmaking process from these little bits and pieces. The final featurette, called "Analyzing Dark Water," is about five minutes of filmmaker commentary on two scenes and then an interactive segment that you can play with the picture, the sound, the effects alone, or in a final mix.

The extras wrap up with twenty-four scene selections, plus a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at seven other BV titles; English as the only spoken language; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
The filmmakers go to great lengths in the disc's featurettes to point out that they did not want "Dark Water" construed as a conventional horror flick but as a psychological thriller. This is to say that even though the movie is about the possibility of ghosts, such apparitions may not actually exist in the story but be figments of the main character's mind. The plot is largely character driven rather than action driven, which may or may not appeal to viewers looking to be scared out of their wits. I have no objection to whatever it is the filmmakers were up to, if they had only succeeded. As it is, I found "Dark Water" slow and depressing, and somehow I don't think that is what they intended.


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