Dark Water (2005)

Wishy-washy remake. More rising damp than downpour of terror.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 14 Aug 2005 by Craig Eastman
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I find myself in a bizarre situation with this one. Walter Salles (he of The Motorcycle Diaries fame) has essentially carbon-copied Hideo Nakata's 2002 Dark Water, a film that survived mainly on atmosphere, and removed all of that atmosphere. In my own selfish interests might I ask you to first read my review of that before continuing your investigation here, thus saving me a shit load of pointless plot exposition in the meantime and enabling me to nip off and make a quick cup of tea. Cheers. I'll just be two minutes...

...right. I'm back. Did you get all of that? Single mother, custody battle, stinking hovel of a home, persistent leak, spooky goings-on, re-appearing Miffy bag and blah, blah, blah. A lot of people saw the original Dark Water as a bit of a disappointment, mainly based on the success of the director's earlier Ringu, itself remade by Hollywood and responsible for the recent Asian horror remake plague sweeping LA. I myself found it entirely acceptable. It might not have set the world alight, but I could appreciate that Nakata was trying to build tension through ambience and sound design rather than shocking orchestral stabs, and it shouldn't really be fed to the lions for that.

Given that the current cinematic zeitgeist seems to stipulate (Asian movie + domestic success) X moderate international interest = REMAKE IT NOW, GOD DAMNIT!, it doesn't really come as much of a surprise that a cloned Dark Water has seeped into multiplexes with the requisite Hollywood lustre and mid-budget cast. What I can't quite suss out is how or why director Salles and WGA screenwriter Rafael Yglesias seem to have willingly cut the already less than substantial dramatic meat from such a delicately balanced beast in favour of producing a mildly quivering pile of not-so-spooky bones. This was never going to be the most commercial of remakes to begin with, but if you're going to go to the effort of sourcing such a respectable cast (Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite, Tim Roth and, erm, Dougray Scott) then why, oh why, oh why undermine them at every turn?

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It's not hard to see why such names would sign on in the wake of Salles' recent acclaim for The Motorcycle Diaries, but his "hot ticket" status is, I expect, about to cool off quite dramatically. Connelly especially seems to have been given a raw deal as she is required to show some of her patented histrionics yet, after admirably keeping her end of the deal, has the legs cut out from under her by her director's reluctance to invest any emotion of his own. Any tension the original wrung from the inference that the young mother may actually be insane has been lost due to that particular sub-plot being dropped completely. Resultantly her performance as the emotionally wrought mother seems weak in comparison to that of Hitomi Kuruki in the original by virtue of someone else's workman-like input.

The rest of the cast also suffer, though not quite to the same degree as their input is, frankly, rather limited. A young Ariel Gade is fine as daughter Ceci, and wins extra points simply for not being Dakota Fanning. Like Connelly, however, her character suffers for the sake of her interaction with the "is she or isn't she real?" child upstairs having been almost completely cut, once again pointlessly discarding all potential suspense. Similarly disbanded from active duty are any semblance of an atmospheric score (the incidental music creeping insidiously throughout the first movie being arguably it's greatest asset), the unsettling almost-glimpses of the ghostly other child, and pretty much all the other bits that worked.

So then. A supposed horror movie without the horror. A supposed suspense movie without the suspense. A supposedly atmospheric chiller without the atmosphere or the chill. Dark Water is essentially a fairly boring and uneventful family drama about a young mother getting a bit stressed and fighting over custody of her daughter. Oh, and someone mentions a ghost or something. Seriously, that's it, and that's exactly why I'm struggling to find anything to say about it. If you're going to remake a minimalist horror movie, try adding a little to it rather than taking everything away. Just a thought.

I award this movie 2 out of 5 Units We Use

Walter Salles
Cast list:
Jennifer Connelly (Dahlia)
Ariel Gade (Ceci)
John C. Reilly (Mr. Murray)
Tim Roth (Jeff Platzer)
Pete Postlethwaite (Veeck)
Dougray Scott (Kyle)