Review: “Dark Water”

Beautifully shot, impeccably acted but often dull as dishwater – Walter Salles remake of the Japanese thriller “Dark Water” is a far more dramatic psychological piece than the suspense/thriller moldings of similarly themed recent efforts like “The Ring” and “The Grudge”.

Brooding with a downbeat atmosphere that’s pervasive throughout the entire picture, one wonders if the residents of Roosevelt Island will sue Disney for portraying their area as a third world slum that would rival Rio’s ‘City of God’ in terms of danger. If true to this film, this part of New York City seems to have living conditions fit only for cockroaches, whilst teenage rapists and abusive spouses wander around every street corner or decrepit laundromat.

This is an utterly depressing movie that’s far darker than the other Japanese horror remakes we’ve seen simply because of its very grounded sense of reality. Combining richly shadowed cinematography, run down and washed out production design and an effectively off-kilter score, the film’s look and feel is truly first rate delivering dark environments that are dank and sinister but feel distressingly real in their quiet well-worn eerieness.

The performances are all pitch perfect too. Capping off what one could call her ‘manic depressive trilogy’, Jennifer Connelly once again gives it her all in the same way she did in “Requiem for a Dream” and “House of Sand and Fog”. As a single mom struggling to overcome parental abuse issues, raise her daughter, fight off her ex-husband’s custody battle, and earn a meager living – Connelly makes her part utterly believable which makes her occasional scene of breaking down a heart-wrenching experience.

Just as strong though is the supporting cast. John C. Reilly’s hilarious turn as a building manager always ready to put a good spin on things, Tim Roth’s disheveled but determined attorney, Pete Postlethwaite’s grumpy foreign building manager, Ariel Gade’s gorgeous but troubled young daughter, and Camryn Manheim’s kind-hearted but concerned school teacher role are all uniformly excellent. Only Dougray Scott seems to miss the mark in the ex-husband role, but in all fairness its the film’s weakest character.

For all its beautiful look and acting though, where the film falls down badly is the more key components of filmmaking – namely a well-paced reasonably told story. Lacking anything in the way of intensity or shocks, the film is so low-key that many will simply not care what happens to these characters no matter how credible they come off as. The central story/mystery feels not only hopelessly derivative but lacks any real sense of interest, whilst the unsatisfying ending is an obvious cop out attempt to yield shock value when something more straight forward and subtle would’ve yielded far better results.

Salles and writer Rafael Yglesias admittedly dive into some deep stuff with their exploration of all sorts of issues that ring true of both the characters and the environment around them – most notably the feelings of isolation and abandonment. Various attempts are made to dive into the murky psychological depths of Connelly’s quietly tortured character and whilst it doesn’t really work, the odd note strikes a chord. Interesting connections are made to cite both real-life harrasment or psychological breakdown being the cause of the potential supernatural shenanigans but they’re quickly abandoned for more conventional ghostly tricks.

With an atmosphere that’s unsettling but never frightening, “Dark Water” will sadly join the likes of “The Ring Two” or “Hide and Seek” as one of these toned down and forgettable spooky thrillers that will quickly be dismissed and forgotten by the public at large. Its a shame really considering that in some ways its far superior to those two films, in many others though its equally if not more hopeless. There’s a lot of obvious love and hard work that has gone into this project, but its just too downbeat a story to be mass appealing whilst not interesting or smart enough to pull in the intellectual crowd. The film ultimately ends up being as damp and dark as the stains that permeate its ceilings.