I don’t like categorizing films according to genre. It’s an oversimplified way of describing a film and it tends to besmirch any movie that doesn’t have a solid absolute category into which it fits. Horror movies seek to elicit a negative emotional reaction from the viewers by playing on their fears. Psychological horror movies rely on character's fears, guilt, beliefs, and emotional instability to build tension. Dark Water (2005), directed by Walter Salles, definitely pulls this off. Dark Water is an American remake of Japanese film by Hideo Nakata, who also inspired the Ring (1998) movie, which also has an American remake.
Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter Cecelia (Ariel Gade) move into a rundown apartment on New York's Roosevelt Island. She is currently in midst of divorce proceedings with her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott). The apartment, though near an excellent school for her daughter, is all she can afford. From the time she arrives, there are mysterious occurrences and there is a constant drip of dark water from the ceiling in her daughter's bedroom. There are also the noises coming from the apartment directly above hers, though it appears to be vacant. The manager Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly) seems blissfully oblivious to the strange things going on in his building, and the superintendant Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite) seems to want to ignore or evade the problem. Is the apartment haunted, or is Dahlia’s emotional distress getting to her?
Horror movies often have a female protagonist who ends up being the last one alive to confront the antagonist. This “Final Girl” is a horror movie trope can be seen in many horror movies; Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Alien (1979) , and The Ring (2002) to name a few. Interestingly, Dark Water doesn’t have this character. Dahlia is just a simple woman who still struggles to overcome some childhood trauma wrought by an alcoholic mother. Dahlia tries to make ends meet, and support her daughter, and live within her means. She is a very natural character that anyone could relate to who, by some fluke, is confronted with the supernatural. Given Dahlia’s weaknesses and fear of abandonment, we are left to wonder if she will allow her daughter to be endangered. I couldn’t help but care about Jennifer Connelly’s character.
A dark, gloomy visual style is permeated throughout the film; most everything seems grimy, dank, and dreary. It reflects Dahlia’s depression and hopelessness very well. The ominous leak in the ceiling looks like some kind of evil infestation rather than common water damage. The black water seeps throughout the apartment building, is gross and seems to have a life of its own. In fact, it’s really not clear for most of the movie whether or not the dark water is imbued with the supernatural or just a manifestation of Dahlia’s depression. Her psychological state is so well illustrated and incorporated as a meaningful plot development, that as Dahlia begins to question her own sanity, we, the viewers, begin to question our own sanity. The conclusion is certainly over-the-top, and doesn’t quite show us how everything ultimately fit together; but it complements the theme of uncertainty and mystery in the movie.
If you’re the squeamish type, it’s good to know that while there are some scary images, this isn’t a “blood and guts” sort of horror movie; it is suitably PG-13 material. Dark Water was disturbing, creepy, kind of gross, and impinges on ones sanity; which is exactly what the movie was trying to do! That’s the ambiance for which good horror movies strive. Therefore, I have to say that Dark Water was very well directed, beautifully written, splendidly acted, and skillfully filmed. I think Horror Movies are an acquired taste, one which I have not yet acquired. Having said that, Dark Water probably isn’t something I’d go out of my way to see again. But it’s a really well executed movie that achieves what it sets out to do. If you like horror movies or psychological thrillers, I’m certain you’d enjoy Dark Water.