Saturday, September 10, 2005

Movie Review: "Dark Water"

Starring Jennifer Connelly, Ariel Gade, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott and Pete Postlethwaite
Directed by Walter Salles

Improperly marketed this summer as a horror movie, "Dark Water" admittedly is almost completely scare-free. Then again, I don't think director Walter Salles and his cast set out to make a horror movie. Instead, the film is much more effective as a psychological thriller that deals with elements such as abandonment and depression.
At the beginning of the film, Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) has seen her marriage collapse and is struggling to maintain custody of her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). She knows she must find a new home, but tight finances force her to look in less-than-desired locales, such as a run-down apartment complex on New York's Roosevelt Island. It's there that she runs into Murray (John C. Reilly), a sociable real estate agent who believes a fresh coat of paint is an actual answer to some of the building's many shortcomings. One of those shortcomings is Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), the building superintendent, a surly and humorless sort that you know has clearly been there too long.
More out of desperation than actual desire, Dahlia takes the apartment (for a bargain price of only $900 a month), but almost immediately a leaky ceiling emerges. Starting as a simple water stain on the ceiling, it quickly spreads, dripping an oily substance that looks a bit beyond a normal plumbing job. Veeck explains to Dahlia that the apartment above her has been abandoned, but troublesome teens have been managing to break into it and create mischief by flooding it. But how reliable is Veeck, Dahlia wonders. Her daughter certainly has no misconceptions about him, calling him a liar to his face.
While Dahlia tries to put on a happy face for her daughter – who begins having problems at school with her "imaginary friend" (in this case, a ghost) – she begins to feel overwhelmed with the new direction in her life. Suffering from migraines, Dahlia regularly takes medication, which at one point, causes her to fall asleep for a full day. At the same time, her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) begins angling to have her declared as an unfit mother. The seriousness of the situation is explained to her by her lawyer (Tim Roth, making the most of his small screen time) in a very good scene featuring the two sitting in his car amidst a heavy downpour.
Actually, rain is constantly falling in "Dark Water," which only enhances its overall mood. And the apartment complex, with such features as malfunctioning washing machines and a leaky elevator, is probably the film's most important character.
The uncertainty of Dahlia's mental state becomes a more interesting storyline to follow, with her unhappy childhood feeding into her adulthood insecurities. Connelly, having taken on other flawed characters in movies such as "Requiem for a Dream" and "House of Sand and Fog" is very good at bringing deeper dimensions to her characters. But the movie, a remake of a Japanese film by Hideo Nakata, employs yet another young female ghost whose past is enshrouded in secret. Naturally, that secret gets revealed as the movie presses on, reaching a somewhat logical, but still not very satisfying conclusion.
The ghost storyline is actually the weakest part of the movie, but the one that it's being sold on. But taking it as more of a character study, filled with some standout supporting performances, "Dark Water" floats by.
Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language.)


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