Horror Ghost story
Trivia In the fine Hollywood tradition, this movie has just been remade and is now in post-production. The remake stars Jennifer Connelly, Shelley Duval, Tim Roth and Dougray Scott.
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Dark Water (1998)
20th Apr 04
Plot Dark Water is basically the story of Yoshimi. She is a young mother coping with a difficult divorce and determined to bring up her eight-year-old daughter, Ikuko, to the best of her ability. The story kicks off with them moving into an old and rundown apartment block on the outskirts of town. The building is dull and grey, the corridors are all indistinguishably bleak and the floors are inexplicably short on tenants. Itís full of creepy touches too; the elevators are slow and noisy, strange creaking and banging sounds can be heard intermittently, and then thereís the water; straight away they have to cope with a ceiling which drips constantly. The building attendant at the front entrance is typically useless, so they try to catch it all with saucepans and buckets and what have you. But where is the water coming? And if itís from the flat upstairs, who lives there?
As events unfold, the film turns into a series of questions, mainly about specific plot devices that are used to slowly raise the tension levels. Some of these are convincingly iconic and simply convey messages without dialogue. For example, there's the husband who chain-smokes so emphatically when he appears, does this allude to some kind of guilty secret? Also, there's the guy at the front desk thatís reluctant to help her, does he know something Yoshimi doesnít? And what of an early scene where Yoshimi and Ikuko come to view the property and their shoes and umbrellas are the only warm colours in the whole dull landscape; whatís that meant to imply? Anything or nothing, is this imagery significant or is Nakata toying with us? When we are suitably confused, things take a turn for the supernatural with devices like the little red satchel. How come no matter how many times Yoshimi throws that satchel away it always finds itís way back into Ikukoís hands. Also, whatís with this water business? No matter how many utensils they get to catch the drips, it never seems enough. Similarly, who is that shadowy figure that we catch a glimpse of in the liftís CCTV camera? And, quite frankly, where the hell are the other tenants? Needless to say, the imagery is piled on thick and the film slowly builds to a chilling climax.
Actually, the key word there was Ďslowlyí; long sections of Dark Water go at a snail pace. Hideo Nakata is a good at his craft and the pairing with writer Suzuki Koji (who also wrote the original Ring) is fruitful, but there is a certain amount of recurrence that is off putting. Mother-child relationships played a huge role in Ring and Ring 2, as did water and drowning and likewise the concept of the avenging ghost. Itís a shame, then, that these themes ring so deeply through Dark Water because, sadly, the feeling of familiarity you get while watching it works against it and makes the film drag heavily in parts. I would have much preferred to see the pair take a fresh direction, but perhaps Iím just hankering for an experience as unique as watching the original Ring. Dark Water isnít that, but it is a decent effort all the same and so shouldnít be overlooked entirely. Itís one of those films that youíll be watching and for quite a while youíll think itís excellent. All of a sudden, though, while youíre taking everything in, youíll realize that the pace of the film has ground to a halt and youíre actually quite bored. Then, when youíre not expecting it, something genuinely spooky will catch your attention and youíre back to liking it again. Itís a bizarre loop of being scared then bored, scared then bored, and obviously this is going to affect any decision as to the filmís merits. I reckon this one will divide the critics somewhat, thatís for sure.
I would say this film is ultimately too slow and lacks the originality needed to be considered a classic, but it is genuinely unnerving and when the jumpy bits do come along, they are brilliant. Thereís a big scare about twenty minutes in and it shook the whole audience when I first saw this at the cinema. Sometimes that is enough to recommend any horror, but thatís not the only reason this film is worth watching. Nakata is good at doing these kinds of movies and it shows in every frame. For cinematographers alone this is quite an adventure.
All in all, Dark Water is a good solid ghost story but it wonít knock your socks off like Ring did. It is a slow piece, but it has some good scares. If you have a little patience, you might just appreciate the chilling mood of the piece and come away genuinely shook up. At the first screening I went to, I saw a lot of people who were.
Versions There is strangely no US release for Dark Water. The best version available is a Japanese R3 DVD with a DTS 6.1 soundtrack, although all versions worldwide are uncut.