Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara)
August 11, 2002
Hideo ‘Ring’ Nakata continues his Japanese horror masterclass with Dark Water, a spine-tingling tale concerning a mother and daughter living in a haunted apartment.
After the success of the first two Ring movies, director Nakata returns to familiar ground with Dark Water – the perfect breeding ground for his unique brand of creepiness. His strength lies in making even the simplest thing utterly terrifying, whether it’s pouring a glass of water or taking the elevator on your own at night. Whereas western audiences demand blood and guts for their horror, Japanese directors like Nakata, Takashi Miike and the Pang Brothers (who brought us The Eye) know that less is more. It’s all about what you DON’T see.
On the surface the plot is pretty basic: a recently divorced young mother moves in to a cheap apartment with her five-year-old daughter to start a new life, only to discover the ceiling is constantly leaking water and a little red bag keeps turning up in odd places. So, straining under the pressure of trying to find a new job while her ex-husband tries to gain custody of their daughter Ikuko, Yoshimi begins to fall apart at the seams. Is she imagining things or is her ex playing tricks on her?
To reveal any more would be to spoil the fun, but despite being predictable in places, that doesn’t stop it being scary. The journey is more important than where you arrive, after all. Nakata’s skill is in creating atmosphere, and in this he succeeds on a par with M. Night Shyamalan or David Lynch. It just goes to show that you don’t need a huge budget or even big stars to create a successful film.
The bulk of the drama rests entirely on the mother and daughter’s performances, and they carry the film with aplomb (whatever aplomb is. Maybe it’s like a grape). Indeed, the ending is genuinely heart-breaking in a way a western horror film would never dream of attempting. Not since Spielberg and Close Encounters of The Third Kind has a director got such a believable performance from a child actor. The big twist is present at the end, but it’s the emotional factor that will linger long in your head after the credits roll, and the entire story is based on such a horrific urban legend (especially if you’re the parent of a young child) that the very idea of it chills you to the bone before the ‘haunting’ aspect even comes into it.
Comparisons have been made with a certain Julie Christie movie, but stylistically this doesn’t hold much water (no pun intended). Dark Water is best viewed with no expectations and I’m glad I never saw the trailer because it reveals far too much. If you like a good old-fashioned haunted house movie with almost no CGI, this is the film for you. Only the slightly wonky epilogue spoils things, but perhaps that’s because we’re used to having one last cheap shock instead of something a little more profound.
Just the trailer (don’t watch it until after the film!) and a showreel for some other Japanese hits: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (so-so), Shiri (good), The Happiness of the Katakuris (utterly insane! Brilliant!), A Snake of June (baffling) and Public Enemy (shrug). The best thing about this disc is the choice between surround sound 2.0, 5.1 or DTS for the full horror effect.