Embryonic Death

Touchstone Pictures/www.movieweb.com

Jennifer Connelly in Dark Water

Dayton City Paper | July 8, 2005
Grade: B

Rated: PG-13

By Aaron Epple

It isn’t difficult to see why Japanese horror films are so attractive to Hollywood, an institution that sets a new standard for creative laziness every fiscal quarter. Japanese horror films tend to be all mood and suggestion, so all the Hollywood screenwriter has to do is take the ready-made template and flesh out the narrative a little.

There are actually a number of spots where screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (From Hell) and

Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) improve on the original. The bitterness of the custody battle between the mother (now played by Jennifer Connelly) and her bullying ex-husband is felt much more acutely, and the suggestion that he’s planting spooky items around the apartment complex to toy with her sanity is conveyed through actual physical activity instead of a single one-sentence accusation. Factor in Connelly’s customarily explosive performance plus the terrific supporting work from indie vets John C. Reilly and Tim Roth, and the result is the new Dark Water seems to be a story that’s just as much about gender harassment as a junior ghost who keeps leaving the bathtub running. The original movie, by contrast and like most Japanese horror films, basically comes down to a hair-tickling synth musical score and one or two particularly creepy images. In the first Dark Water’s case, it was the squishy boots of the girl-ghost, shot only from the waist down, slowly inching toward the camera.

The original Dark Water was directed by Hideo Nakata and based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, the same writer and subsequent adapter that spawned the Ringu franchise. It concerned a just-divorced woman trying to rebuild her life after several years of being a homemaker. She finds a decent apartment for herself and her daughter and sets about the task of enrolling the girl in school and finding a job, while always in the back of her mind lurks a bullying ex-husband who threatens to take the child away.

But on top of these stressful and all-too-familiar circumstances, a mysterious child’s tote bag keeps turning up the premises, while an unsightly and voluminously leaky water stain persists on her ceiling. It all seems to be tied to the apartment directly above, which housed a little girl who was reported missing some time ago.

The remake effectively mimics this plot line with the alterations mentioned above, while also preserving the killer ending. Both movies regurgitate Suzuki’s curious preoccupation with maternal anxiety, a perceived backlash against single mothers, and floodwater, (as do both Ringu films, incidentally). If I wanted to get really Freudian on the water issue, I could probably make an argument that Suzuki has some buried, unresolved issues with his Mama’s womb.

Walter Salles, a gritty chronicler of homespun South American life, might seem like an odd choice for an American horror remake, but I bet Che Guevera would’ve been pleased with the Eastern European sensibility Salles brings to New York’s Roosevelt Island. The boxy apartment complex disturbingly resembles the worker dormitories of an industrialized Communist state, flavored with hues of dungaree brown and urinary yellow. Picture the opening depressive state of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and you should have a pretty complete image in your mind.

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