By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 8, 2005
Viscous, tea-colored water rains down in thick cataracts throughout "Dark Water," a thriller that won't leave viewers feeling wrung out so much as in dire need of wringing.
Dark, dank, damp, grim, dingy and dour, "Dark Water" is a tasteful but unremitting bummer and yet one more case of an Oscar-winning actress -- this time it's Jennifer Connelly -- proving that she can still do the kinds of disposable movies big awards are supposedly meant to banish from your résumé forever. Based on the 2002 Japanese horror film of the same name, "Dark Water" is trying to be the next "Ring" (both are based on novels by the same writer, and the Japanese films had the same director), but it's difficult to see this one becoming a cult hit. For one thing, it's so visually dreary, the world it creates too depressingly gray, that you can't wait to get out of there and never come back. Unlike classics such as "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Shining," its physical setting -- Roosevelt Island, the East Berlin of New York-- is too featureless, too devoid of charm or texture, to be a character in itself.
So we're left with Connelly, here playing Dahlia, the recently separated mother of a 5-year-old daughter named Ceci (played by the terrific Ariel Gade), and the new tenant of Apartment 9F in what surely trumps the Dakota as the creepiest apartment building in New York. After the two move in, Dahlia notices a leak in the bedroom, which she asks the laconic superintendent to fix. Of course, there are leaks and then there are FEMA sites, and 9F quickly takes on the gooey, tarlike qualities of the latter. Dahlia keeps asking for a plumber when what she really needs is a hazmat team and about 10,000 cc's of penicillin. (Especially at the beginning, "Dark Water" is punctuated by some on-point New York real estate humor that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered the indignity of renting in that particular circle of hell.)
Things start to get wetter and weirder, and it looks increasingly as if Ceci is some kind of involuntary spooky surrogate. (When did Hollywood decide that you had to include a little kid, preferably singing a nursery rhyme in a frighteningly singsong way, to qualify as a scary movie?)
Director Walter Salles ("Central Station," "The Motorcycle Diaries"), working from a script by Rafael Yglesias, does a good job of establishing "Dark Water's" gloomy atmosphere, even if he begins to pour it on. And he's assembled an outstanding cast of supporting players, each of whom invests his or her character with just enough menace to keep the audience guessing. Is Dahlia being gaslighted by her estranged husband (Dougray Scott), tricked by her building manager (a very funny John C. Reilly), ambushed by her lawyer (Tim Roth) or stalked by that ghost-faced super (Pete Postlethwaite)? Or is Dahlia, who has a troubled history and suffers debilitating migraines, indeed imagining it all?
Until its supernatural cop-out of a finale, "Dark Water" actually manages to make even Dahlia's most benevolent friends and neighbors look like potential bad guys. Then again, when you're trapped behind an endless scrim of rain, it's hard to look your best.
Dark Water (102 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity.