A DIFFERENT KIND OF WATER PHOBIA
I have not seen the original "Dark Water," the 2002 Japanese horror flick that doesn't have the solid reputation like some of the better ghost films from Asia; many of which have become lucrative American remakes.
The 2005 American version, directed by Walter Salles making his English film debut, isn't the next "The Ring," but works as an entertaining thriller that may be low on scares but high on atmosphere.
The film opens with our hero Dahlia (Jennifer Connely) in mediation with her ex-husband (Dougray Scott) over the custody of their precious daughter, Ceci (Ariel Grade). The husband wants full custody, says Dahlia is unstable and threatens to sue.
Meanwhile Dahlia finds the only apartment she can afford, one in a dreary apartment complex on Roosevelt Island originally constructed on a plan to become a "utopian society." So says the building's manager, Murray (John C. Reilly), anyway, whose unyielding optimism would almost be admiring if it weren't so tactless.
The building's superintendent (Pete Postlethwaite), with his hollow eyes and ominous smirk, is the kind of guy you would only want to approach in times of utmost urgency. Such an occasion arises when a malevolent ceiling stain begins dripping black water into the only bedroom of the apartment.
The leak coming from the unoccupied apartment upstairs is a great mystery. Certain unknown forces (or two punk kids with nothing better to do) are flooding it out by leaving all the faucets on causing the water to flood through the rafters. Neither Murray nor the superintendent show much concern for the situation, one that adds to the misery and frustration of Dahlia who is already troubled from her tormented childhood and taking strong medication for crippling migraines.
Ceci, who at first was not thrilled about moving into such a "yucky" apartment, has suddenly become complacent with her new home and school. Her teacher informs Dahlia however that she's been talking to an imaginary friend. She goes by Natasha and when we first hear about the mysterious girl Ceci's age she immediately becomes creepier than Charlie ever was in this year's "Hide and Seek."
After a little investigating Dahlia learns that Natasha was the little girl who lived in the apartment above them with her unkind parents who may or may not have done very cruel things to her. Natasha, as a result, may or may not be a ghost haunting the apartment, softly humming the itsy bitsy spider that's fused into the film's soundtrack - constantly maintaining a dark tone throughout the movie.
As the leak gets worse and Dahlia's situation becomes more desperate when Ceci starts causing trouble at school while her ex-husband pushes for full custody, we become more concerned with the everyday issues that's plaguing her life than whatever it is running up the utility bill upstairs.
Starting off slow, the pace gradually picks up and releases the terror at just the right time, finally revealing what's been going on upstairs. The climax is slightly over the top in that more water appears in one scene than the many gallons that have seeped through the walls and dripped from the ceilings and poured out of the faucets in the earlier stages of the movie. It's effective nonetheless and the conclusion will stick with you long after you leave the theater.
Jennifer Connely has always been a warm onscreen presence and never fails to make her character someone for whom we sympathize. She's the perfect pick for this type of movie, although after this and the recent "House of Sand and Fog" it would be nice to see her in a more cheerful role.
There is nothing truly scary or shocking about "Dark Water" (it constantly flirts with the ghost-in-the-mirror ploy). Instead it relies on the mood and atmosphere to succeed and for a film simply called "Dark Water" you get what you expect when you buy the ticket.