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Dark Water (July 7/05)

There's little doubt that the majority of viewers walking into Dark Water are expecting a horror flick somewhere along the lines of The Ring and The Grudge, due in no small part to the film's origins (it's adapted from a Japanese book by Ringu novelist Kôji Suzuki, which was turned into a film a few years ago by Ringu director Hideo Nakata). But instead of churning out yet another tired J-horror retread, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias and filmmaker Walter Salles have transformed the movie into something that could more accurately be described as a psychological drama.

Jennifer Connelly stars as Dahlia, a single mother who's just beginning the contentious process of divorcing her husband (played by Dougray Scott). At stake is the custody of their young daughter, a precocious little tyke named Ceci (Ariel Gade). As the film opens, Dahlia decides to move into a dilapidated apartment building that's owned by a sleazy slumlord (John C. Reilly) and run by a grizzled super (Pete Postlethwaite). Almost immediately, Dahlia begins to notice changes in Ceci - something that's exemplified by her new relationship with an imaginary friend. And then there's that leak in the ceiling that just seems to be getting bigger and bigger...

Dark Water recycles most of its predecessors plot points - particularly those revolving around the mystery of the leak - but integrates an entirely new component focusing on Dahlia's abusive childhood and her tenuous mental state. As a result, unlike the original, the fact that the film's not really about anything isn't something the audience feels required to dwell on. Dahlia's inner turmoil and insecurity in dealing with her daughter is certainly intriguing enough to propel the story forward; that Connelly delivers a subtle, Oscar-worthy performance only enhances this aspect of the film.

Salles, along with cinematographer Affonso Beato, imbues the movie with a discomforting sense of style that effectively complements the script's off-kilter vibe. Additionally, the story's been peppered with an assortment of unusual supporting characters - including Reilly's Mr. Murray, Postlethwaite's Mr. Veeck, and Dahlia's kind but apparently homeless lawyer, Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth). It's interesting to note that each of these men are dishonest towards Dahlia in some way - ie Platzer repeatedly makes references to a family he clearly doesn't have - which only adds to the feeling of uneasiness perpetuated by Yglesias' screenplay.

Dark Water's emphasis on characters and atmosphere will surely turn off viewers hoping for some cheap thrills and a rote storyline, while those in search for something a little deeper will undoubtedly walk away satisfied. This is one of the most intelligent, gripping, and flat-out entertaining films to hit theaters in a long while, and it's certainly a refreshing change of pace from the mindless fare that generally populates multiplexes during the summer months.

out of

About the DVD: Dark Water arrives on DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment as an "unrated" special edition, though what exactly has been added remains a mystery (more gore, presumably?) In terms of special features, the disc comes with a rather extensive behind-the-scenes featurette (which has been broken down into five parts), two deleted scenes, two more featurettes (one involving the sound design, and the other revolving around the cast), and an analysis of what went into creating three pivotal sequences.
© David Nusair