Film — Dark Water (PG-13)
By Amy Diaz
Jennifer Connelly tries to escape some seriously bad plumbing in Dark Water, another-mom-and-kid-against-the-world remake of a Japanese horror film.
At the tail end of a lousy marriage and at the beginning of an even worse divorce, Dahlia (Connelly) moves with her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) to a depressing apartment on Roosevelt Island, made even more depressing by the constant rain. Driven by its low price and proximity to a good school (which she hopes will be a selling point for getting custody of Ceci), Dahlia agrees to take the apartment and moves in to find an unsettling leak in her ceiling. As brown water slowly drops into a bucket, it’s water torture-like quality seems to symbolize the disappointment and dissembling of her life. For Ceci, however, the water seems to hold something on the literal level, not just the metaphoric level. She spends time talking to the stain. She doesn’t tell her mother who exactly is talking back but she does seem to have developed an imaginary friend. And, like all kids in these sorts of movies, imaginary friends are not psychological manifestations of confusion and frustration at the way life has played out. Oh, no. This imaginary friend is, we know, the spirit of some dead former resident, probably of the supposedly empty upstairs apartment, from which the water causing the stain emanates.
But, you know, maybe not. Maybe the mystery of the water and the upstairs neighbor is just a coincidence made all the more chill-inducing by Dahlia’s own mind, which has this nasty habit of replaying her childhood memories of abandonment by her own mother. She sees the loss of her marriage (which, the movie suggests, came in part because of her husband’s infidelity) as another abandonment. And then there are the painful headaches that require the occasional use of powerful painkillers.
The movie does a good job of making Dahlia seem not troubled, really, but in trouble. She is surrounded by shaky and unreliable people — her ex-husband (Dougray Scott), her lousy landlord (John C. Reily), her not-so-handy building super (Pete Postlewaite). And her own mind plays cruel tricks on her — giving her nightmares about her own mother — just as she needs to be the strongest. She’s a woman who is clearly trying to make, if not a good life, a liveable life for herself and a decent life for her daughter. Yet the upstairs spookiness and her own lack of confidence plagues her.
Which is not to say, by any means, that Dark Water is a great movie or even a very good one. What it does do is add substance to a formerly light genre — unlike, say, the characters of the Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle The Grudge. While this is hardly the best of the horror genre, it is very far from the worst. With appropriately gloomy atmosphere and a psychology-heavy plot that induces actual chills, Dark Water is able to stay afloat.
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