As a homeowner, there's nothing more disconcerting than a leak, and that applies to both water coming in through the walls as well as those slow drips that you think will drive you crazy with their constant plink, plink, plink behavior. Such unwelcome water is more than annoying, however, as it often signals that something worse may not be far off on the horizon. Such leaks and other H2O in general are symbolic harbingers in "Dark Water," the American remake of the 2002 Japanese film "Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara."
In it, Jennifer Connelly -- who's starting a trend of appearing in films where she has housing issues (the other being "House of Sand and Fog") -- plays a recently divorced mother who moves with her 6-year-old girl into a squalid apartment on Roosevelt Island just across even more water from Manhattan. It's raining nearly nonstop there and a leak in the ceiling keeps growing. To make matters worse, her character seems on the verge of a mental breakdown not only from the stress of the separation and move, but also from her troubled childhood past and strange goings-on that are occurring in the apartment above her. When black water starts to drip down from that ceiling leak and some spooky stuff starts occurring, she's pushed to her limits.
I haven't seen the original film so I can't comment on similarities, changes or anything of the like, but the combination of familial discord, mental instability and supposedly scary stuff seems like it could be interesting despite not being particularly novel. Yet, while the film is filled with all sorts of its titular namesake -- that's traditionally used in the likes of bathtubs and such to hide pop-out moments -- the plot, the direction it's headed and even some of the particulars are so clear to see that you'll think you're looking through the most expensive, filtered water known to man.
Yes, the film holds few if any surprises. That's especially true for anyone who's seen similar efforts such as "The Changeling," "The Ring" or other such films where wet clues, surprises and the ultimate revelation all have to do with some sort of water. Perhaps if I hadn't seen any of those films or others featuring people getting on after divorce or where some kid strikes up a friendship with an "imaginary friend" who turns out to be a ghost, this might have come off as more gripping.
But the way in which director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Central Station") has brought Rafael Yglesias's ("From Hell," "Les MisÚrables") screenplay adaptation of the original work to the screen is anything but original, interesting or engaging for that matter. And it's certainly not very scary, especially when you can see where it's going thanks to the trails forged by its predecessors as well as a great deal of unfortunate and rather unnecessarily telegraphed foreshadowing.
Once the premise is established, the "fun" is supposed to emanate from the viewer questioning and then trying to discover the truth about whether Connelly's character is simply losing her mind, if her ex-husband is trying to cause that, and/or if a ghost and ghostly matters are behind everything.
The filmmakers lay out all sorts of clues for all three cases, but even ignoring the easily spotted path and finale, they're just not terribly compelling. It almost feels as if the supernatural elements were tacked onto a domestic drama about a single mom striking out on her own with her daughter, or just the opposite where the latter was added to try to give depth to a standard ghost story. Either way, they don't exactly gel into a complete or satisfactory whole.
Despite its predictable and unoriginal nature and various elements, the film isn't a travesty by any means. The production design team succeeds in creating a foreboding aura from start to finish, and the performances are generally good, with Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind," "Requiem for a Dream") getting the lion's share of the heavy lifting and she more than adequately delivers. You can easily feel and sympathize with her pain, suffering and uncertainty as she tries to get her life back on track.
Ariel Gade ("Envy") is okay as her young daughter who gets an "imaginary" friend; Pete Postlethwaite ("The Shipping News," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park") alternates between creepy and curmudgeon as the building's super; John C. Reilly ("The Aviator," "Chicago") plays its manager who doesn't keep his promises after the contract is signed; and Tim Roth ("The Musketeer," "Pulp Fiction") is compelling as an effective and seemingly caring lawyer who just so happens to work out of his car.
Yet, all of them are let down by the script that simply doesn't do much or really go anywhere once the story is in place. More of a psychological thriller wannabe than an outright horror flick, the film contains the standard "look out" and "don't go in there" moments and material, but little if any of that is truly effective since we've seen it countless times before and the filmmakers don't really manage to do anything special with it to make it stand out.
If you've never seen any of the water-based horror flicks that have preceded it, "Dark Water" and its offerings might be tantalizingly spooky and maybe even interesting. For those of us who have, however, the offering simply feels like it's treading water in a genre where we know and can see all of the markings, boundaries and depths due to its crystal clear nature.