Dark Water

I was watching a movie the other night and I noticed some themes I've seen in Japanese horror films recently; revenge, water as a frightening element, what could be a ghost of a child or a very young woman and the use of suspense instead of blood and gore. So I hit the pause button, fired up my browser and sure enough, Dark Water is a remake of a film by the same name directed by Hideo Nakata, who also directed Ringu, which of course was remade into the wildly popular American film The Ring.

Directed by Brazilian Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) from a script by Rafael Yglesias (From Hell, Fearless), who is no stranger to adaptations, Dark Water is essentially a ghost story, with two types of horror, horror within and horror without. Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) is a mother with strong psychological issues. Her father was physically abusive and her mother was pretty rotten, eventually abandoning her when she was still quite young. She suffers from flashbacks of her mother's rejection and is a migraineur and I'm pretty sure she needs a new doctor, as she appears to be on an outdated migraine treatment plan.

The film begins as Dahlia and her six-year-old daughter Ceci (brilliantly played by Ariel Gade) are apartment hunting in the wake of the crumbling of Dahlia's marriage. Dahlia and her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) have just had a screaming fight in the mediator's office over who will have custody, with Kyle saying she is insane and can't handle raising the daughter on her own. He also tells her she has to find an apartment in Jersey City, with the implication that Dahlia needs to live near her husband's new girlfriend to make visitation easier for him.

Instead Dahlia goes to look at a cheap apartment in Roosevelt Island, in a building the manager tells her was designed as a social experiment. (Sadly the film never follows up on what this means. I'd very much like to see a scary film about a social experiment in a seedy apartment building complex in NYC.) Ceci is initially disgusted by the apartment then intrigued by a bizarre stain on the ceiling and goes in search of the cause of the stain. She climbs to the roof of the ten-story building and finds a Hello Kitty backpack next to a creepy looking water tower. When her terrified mother finally finds her she's completely changed her mind and can’t wait to move in.

This is where Mom makes her first mistake. If your kid has a change of heart after wandering away in a strange building, especially when you find her with a new backpack full of toys, you have to be on your guard even if you aren't living in a horror film. You should be even more suspicious if she, like Ceci, suddenly makes a new friend, one that's labeled imaginary by the school, who knows things about your horrid childhood you're trying to put behind you. But poor Dahlia can't concentrate on these clues, she's busy fending off legal threats from her estranged husband, migraines and most worrying, fighting the awful leak from upstairs that turns into a full-fledged flood. I think she should have just abandoned the place when THINGS started showing up in the water but that's easy for me to say, I'm sitting in my nice dry room and my children left their imaginary friends behind years ago.

As mother and daughter are drawn deeper into the mystery we see conflicting clues. Is mom crazy or are these things really happening? Is her theoretical mental illness spreading to her daughter or are they truly in danger?

I was particularly impressed by how unreliable the majority of the characters are. The building manager appears to coerce Dahlia into signing a lease by pretending another couple are about to grab the apartment right out from under her. The creepy custodian looks like the last person you'd ever want to trust and doesn’t seem to want to do his job. Even Jeff Platzer, Dahlia's attorney, is hiding a secret, a secret that made him the most intriguing character in the film to me. In fact I would love to see an entire movie just about the attorney. He's played perfectly by Tim Roth, who I didn't recognize at all. Dahlia herself lies in the film, as does her daughter. How do you trust anything at all when nothing is as it seems?

Jennifer Connelly is very good as Dahlia. She particularly excels at looking sickly and as though she needs someone to take care of her and at one point when she needs to break a door down you just know she's not going to be strong enough to do it. One member of our party kept suggesting she a) move out immediately and b) get a sandwich.

When we decided to watch this movie I didn't think it was going to be all that interesting. A mother and daughter menaced by water? Ooh scary, hide my eyes! But Dark Water turns out to be like that one little present under the tree you don't open until last because you think there can't be anything special inside and actually turns out to be a rare and subtle treat.

Lloyd Alexander

I'm very sad to report Lloyd Alexander, author of the Prydain series of children's books as well as many other wonderful stories, passed away on May 17th of cancer. Mr. Alexander's award winning work was filled with fantasy and adventure and is well loved by fans both young and old. He was 83.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Kong Fan, who says, "The remake of Mighty Joe Young should get a special award for worst remake. Joe deserved better." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.