by Mike Corrigan & r & & r & Dark Water & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he stylish hand of Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata returned last year in the form of an American remake of his 2002 hit, Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara (aka Dark Water). What makes Nakata's original work so effective is how he elicits fear using atmosphere and mood rather than through gory special effects, jump cuts and over-the-top Hollywood scores. Nakata's Ringu, for instance, outclassed the American remake, The Ring, by establishing a genuine feeling of dread with subtle visuals and sound effects and a character-driven plot. It's not what you see in these films, but what you feel that makes you want to check that locked door just one more time.
Fortunately, Dark Water director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) has taken a lesson from the Japanese master. He immediately establishes sympathy for the mother-and-daughter principal characters (Jennifer Connelly and Ariel Gade) as they try to make the best of an increasingly dismal situation. The sickly yellow lighting inside of their shabby apartment block casts a menacing pall. The building vibrates with an odious history. The soundtrack (by Angelo Badalamenti, a frequent David Lynch associate) is restrained, providing nudges rather than shoves.
Both lead performances are solid (and Gade is a young charmer). Just once, however, I'd like to see Connelly in a role that required her to play something other than a victim. Here she plays a mother in trouble. She has trouble with her ex, trouble with the building super and trouble inside her own head. She also has persistent trouble with the building's plumbing. Leaks. Yep, that pesky dark water.
The main problem with Dark Water is the similarity of its story line to that of films in the Ring series wherein the spirit of a dead child haunts those with a physical or psychological connection. Mystery buffs will have the hook figured out within the first three minutes. But what Dark Water may lack in originality and surprise, it makes up for with a gnawing sense of impending doom and with characters we care about. They're what draws you into this tale and keeps you engaged through the film's somber but satisfying conclusion.