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Dark Water DVD Review

Dark Water

February 24, 2006

Director: Walter Salles,
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Pete Postlethwaite, Camryn Manheim, Ariel Gade, Perla Haney-Jardine, Elina Löwensohn,

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DVD Review

Jennifer Connelly joins the club of A-list actresses who are trying their hand at the horror genre. Of course, fans of her work should remember the Dario Argento film, Phenomena (1985), she did as a child so she is certainly no stranger to the genre or to dark roles (see Waking the Dead and Requiem for a Dream). Dark Water (2005) is the latest Hollywood remake of a well-known Japanese horror film (the others being The Ring and The Grudge) but is it any good?

Dahlia Williams (Connelly) is in the midst of a messy child custody battle with her soon to be ex-husband (Scott). Strapped for cash, she and her daughter (Gade) move into a dilapidated apartment building on Roosevelt Island. Their apartment features a lovely view of a factory and other buildings and it quickly becomes apparent that her place is not in the best of shape. Among many other things, it needs a new paint job and sports an ominous water stain on the ceiling in one room. As time goes on, the stain gets bigger and nastier looking with black water (almost the consistency of oil) dripping from it. The gruff handyman (Postlethewaite) isn’t much help and neither is the smooth-talking superintendent (Reilly). Then, things get strange. Dahlia checks out the “empty” apartment above her and the source of the nasty stain only to find that it is fully furnished and flooded with water.

It seems more than a bit fishy that Dahlia would take an apartment as run-down as that, or that she wouldn’t notice the nasty stain. The film tries to justify her choice by showing what little time she has and how she needs to prove that she can provide a stable home for her daughter. However, it just doesn’t seem believable and is the film’s only unforgivable jump in logic. On the plus side, anyone who’s ever rented can instantly relate to the problems that Dahlia has with her apartment – the poor response time of the super and the lack of cooperation from the handyman. John C. Reilly nails the a-little-too-nice, accommodating nature of his character who wants only to get Dahlia to sign the lease only to give her the runaround once she’s a tenant.

Director Walter Salles makes the smart choice of introducing the supernatural element gradually. He doesn’t feel the need to hit the audience over the head with it from the get-go but takes his time establishing the characters and their world. Even though it is a remake of a J-horror movie, Dark Water evokes The Sentinel (1977) with its imposing building populated with oddball characters, the female protagonist being charmed into taking a bad apartment by a less than reputable realtor and a prevailing, foreboding atmosphere.

The apartment building clearly amplifies and builds on Dahlia’s fears which she must confront directly if she is to conquer them. Like The Ring (1998), The Eye (2002) and The Grudge (2004), Dark Water features a personal battle that a female protagonist has to resolve herself. The supernatural element also stems from a child who has been wrongly killed and seeks revenge and resolution to their death.

Salles and cinematographer Affonso Beato adopt a chocolate brown, sepia mixed with black colour scheme that enhances the grim, nearly constant rainy weather that dominates the movie. They create the perfect setting for this horror film: the rainy city with the apartment building full of mysteries that must be unlocked. Coupled with the excellent production design (old fashioned clothes washer, dank, decrepit apartments, the tiles on the walls), the filmmakers have created a textured, visually interesting world for the characters to inhabit and have crafted a decent things-go-bump-in-the-night movie.

Special Features:

“Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water.” The filmmakers wanted to make a psychological horror film with strong characters and a powerful story. The featurette explores the unique location of Roosevelt Island and how it enhanced the atmosphere of the movie. The film’s top notch production design is also briefly explored, including the use of water which is the film’s primary visual motif.

“The Sound of Terror” examines the film’s soundscape and how it enhanced the unsettling atmosphere of certain scenes, either with the building or to convey Dahlia’s deteriorating mental state.

Also included are two deleted scenes, one that features yet another phone conversation between Dahlia and her friend, and another small scene between Ceci and her father.

“Extraordinary Ensemble” takes a look at the cast and crew of the movie in this featurette that tends to be on the self-congratulatory side. This was Salles’ first film as a hired gun and he wanted to surround himself with a strong cast who praise his quiet, thoughtful direction.

“Analyzing Dark Water Scenes” takes us through three scenes from the movie and how they are put together through editing and composition of frame.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 80%

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