Suffering through a bitter custody battle, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) have moved into a rundown New York City apartment to start a new life. The place, run by an eccentric manager (a scene-stealing John C. Reilly), and an even stranger superintendent (Pete Postlethwaite), isn't very welcoming, but Dahlia decides to give it her best shot. Mysterious occurrences start arriving with the appearance of a leaky ceiling in the apartment that drips black water. The water soon starts to appear everywhere to Dahlia, leading her to the brink of insanity. She tries to hold it together for Ceci, but the young girl is also dealing with the haunted surroundings, and the sinister nature of her new imaginary friend.
Just glancing at "Dark Water" (IMDb listing) you can feel a wince coming on. The latest entry in the Japanese horror remake fiesta, "Water" comes to American shores with an ace up its sleeve: filmmaker Walter Salles. Directly off his international sensation, "The Motorcycle Diaries," the Brazilian director comes to this remake of the 2002 horror hit with some bright ideas on mood and suspense. After watching "The Ring" and "The Grudge" (along with some other knock-offs) go horribly wrong, it's a small treat to see "Dark Water" translate so well to these shores.
We've seen it before: ghost kids, spooky corners, imposing faucets. "Dark Water" doesn't feature too many firsts in its plot. Salles steps up to this challenge by forcing the material to bend to his will, creating a sensational mood of emotional destruction, baked with a crust of paranoia. "Water" isn't necessarily a "boo!" experience like the marketing suggests; Salles is much more interested in detailing Dahlia's extreme emotions, and her decent into madness and guilt. No actress in the world is better suited for this gloomy journey than Jennifer Connelly, who is pitch-perfect in her role here. Salles smothers the film in darkness and moisture, weaving a mysterious, suspenseful vibe. Connelly is right there to back him up at every turn, providing a strong human core to the fantastical surroundings, and brilliantly matching the dark tone Salles is methodically arranging.
"Water" eventually succumbs to the obvious when ghost children start running around and the scare factor is turned up. Salles himself doesn't appear too interested in giving his audience the willies, but he does score an awesome climax, which is both unexpected and astonishing, considering this project comes from Disney. I can forgive some rather inane leaps at spooks when the ending is this good.
Salles is even able to make his film compelling after original director Hideo Nakata stole most of the ideas for his "Ring Two" sequel from earlier this year. "Water" and "Two" have so much in common, I'm shocked lawsuits weren't filed. At the end of the day, Salles is just so much more interesting a filmmaker than Nakata, and he finds magic by making deja vu seem brand spanking new.
"Dark Water" is familiar material twisted into interesting directions, and even if it doesn't always succeed dramatically, the attempt is clear, and I appreciate the film for that alone. I hope Salles takes more dips in the Hollywood pool in the future.
Filmfodder Grade: B+