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Dark Water Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/08/2005

Walter Salles has directed two very acclaimed Spanish language movies, 1998’s Central Station and 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries (I’ve seen the former, but I haven’t seen the latter one yet)…so why would he make his first English language movie a Japanese horror remake?  For that matter, why did he decide to make this movie, Dark Water, as un-scary as possible?  (I’m sure that wasn’t intentional…but that is what has happened.)

Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is a woman who is going through some mental problems.  When she was a kid (Perla Haney-Jardine as a young Dahlia), she had an abusive father and an alcoholic mother (Elina Löwensohn.)  She suffers from migraines, which hasn’t helped her mental state.  She is currently going through a divorce from her husband, Kyle (Dougray Scott), and they meet with two mediators (Linda Emond and Bill Buell) at the beginning of the movie to discuss custody issues over their daughter, 6-year-old Cecilia (Ariel Gade.)  “Ceci,” as Cecilia is nicknamed, loves both her parents, but the divorce might be taking a toll on her mental state as well (we’ll get into that later.)  Meanwhile, Dahlia has decided to move to Roosevelt Island with Ceci, mainly because the housing there is inexpensive (i.e. cheap.)  She has found an apartment for $900 a month, and she takes Ceci to see it.  After getting the hard sell by the building’s manager, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), she decides to take it.  This is despite the fact that it looks like crap, a window doesn’t open, the view is terrible, there are no other kids in the building, and there is a mysterious water stain on the ceiling (which she doesn’t discover until after she moves in.)  Ceci doesn’t want to move there at first, but when she wanders up to the roof during the initial apartment showing and finds a Hello Kitty backpack with a Barbie doll and other toys in it, she decides that she likes the place.  Kyle isn’t so happy about the move; he has moved to Jersey City himself, and he wants Ceci to live closer to him.  After moving in, Dahlia finds a job at a radiology clinic (Alison Sealy-Smith plays the supervisor who hires her) and finds a good school for Ceci (Camryn Manheim plays Ceci’s teacher.)  Not long after she moves in and gets settled, Dahlia discovers the water stain, which has turned into a full-on leak, and the building superintendent, Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), says he can patch the leak, but he can’t fix the plumbing.  This begins a frustrating phone tag session between Murray and Dahlia over who will fix the pipes…Veeck or some hired plumbers.  Other than the leak, she has been having more problems with apartment 10F (Dahlia’s apartment is 9F, right below the apartment in question.)  She keeps hearing someone running around up there, so when she goes to investigate, she discovers that the entire apartment has been flooded.  Veeck says that 10F belongs to a Russian couple and their daughter, named Natasha (Haney-Jardine again), but they haven’t been around in a while.  He blames the flooding on two teens, Steve (Matt Lemche) and Billy (Edward Kennington), breaking into the apartment and turning on all of the faucets.  Dahlia tries to deal with the plumbing issues and her custody battle by hiring a lawyer named Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth), who works out of his car and has a pretend family.  So far, so not scary.  Finally…we get to the supposedly creepy part.  Ceci starts talking to an imaginary friend, Natasha (the girl from 10F), who makes her do weird things, like drawing scribbles in class and acting out inappropriately.  Dahlia keeps getting weird dreams herself, which were brought upon from her migraines, forcing her to self-medicate.  As mom and daughter seem to both be having issues, Dahlia must figure out if they are both going insane, or if they are being set up to go crazy.

The major problem I had with this movie was that it had way too many red herrings.  Every time you suspect one person as the “bad guy,” it turns out to be false.  Once you find out ultimately who it is, it is highly disappointing.  I guess Salles, along with screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, intended it to be that way in order to be “original,” but for the moviegoer, “original” turns into “frustrating,” leading to no shocks at all.

The movie is a remake of a 2002 Japanese horror movie of the same name.  Hideo Nakata and Takashige Ichise wrote that screenplay, based off a 1996 novel by Kôji Suzuki, and Nakata directed it.  Nakata also directed the original Ringu and Ringu 2, the original versions of The Ring and The Ring Two, respectively.  He obviously must not be the best at writing, which is why both this movie and The Ring Two were awful (he didn’t write either version of The Ring.)  He directed The Ring Two as his English language debut, and that obviously wasn’t a good entry into American filmmaking.  It’s too bad that both Salles and Nakata haven’t translated horror properly for an American audience yet.

As far as the acting goes, it was decent.  Connelly was good as a woman who thought that she was going insane, but since the story didn’t have much to freak her out over (other than bad plumbing), she had to make due with what she had.  I’d like to see her do a comedy again, but the last time she did one, it was 1991’s Career Opportunities, and she was regulated to the “hot girl” role.  Gade played your standard freaky kid.  Reilly and Postlethwaite played two of the red herrings, with Reilly being the only comic relief in the whole movie.  Roth played a character who had attributes that were supposed to be funny, but it ended up being confusing.  Manheim, one of my favorite actresses, is completely wasted here.  After winning the Emmy and Golden Globe for ABC’s “The Practice,” she hasn’t had a meaty role yet (shame on you Hollywood!)  I still remember her as the perky geek from 1997’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, so I’d like to take on another comedy, and then get an Oscar nomination for a drama.

The moral of the story of Dark Water is…if you don’t want to be haunted by ghosts…don’t move into a crappy apartment with bad plumbing!  There was nothing suspenseful or scary about the movie, and if that is how the original was (I’ve never seen it), I fear for Japanese horror filmmaking.  I have also never seen last year’s remake of The Grudge, but I think that the Japanese horror remake train might be grinding to a halt.  The Grudge 2 will be coming out next year, along with a remake of 2001’s Pulse.  So far, only the remake of the original Ring has been good.  In this year of incessant remakes, can’t we stop this subgenre?  Let’s get back to remaking old TV shows!  (You do realize that I’m kidding…maybe…)

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