In most of the places that I’ve lived, a water-stain on the ceiling is not scary. Annoying, yes; disgusting, absolutely, but I’ve never had the feeling that it was trying to kill me.
It was in that mindset that I first saw the previews to Dark Water. My initial instinct was quite cynical. Ooooh, dirty water! That’s so scaaary!
Okay, so I was wrong, which is, by itself, not exactly a newsworthy event. Dark Water is an effective, if predictable, supernatural thriller. I had most of the plot figured out about ten minutes after Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) moved into a dank, depressing but affordable apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York.
Dahlia is in the midst of a bitter divorce from her husband, Kyle (Dougray Scott), with the attendant custody battle over the daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade). No longer able to afford to live in Manhattan, she looks for an apartment on nearby Roosevelt Island. After a tour by the slick, fast talking landlord, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), Dahlia impulsively takes the apartment rather than lose it. On second blush, it seems like a rash decision. Both the apartment and the building are as decrepit and creepy as its caretaker, Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite).
Apartment 9F has some issues, most notably a persistent water stain on the bedroom ceiling. Is it connected to flooding in apartment 10F? And what does that have to do with that apartment’s missing tenants? Is it related to the thumping noises that Dahlia hears upstairs or to Ceci’s new imaginary friend? Or is Kyle right and his wife is suffering from delusions that endanger their daughter?
One strength of this movie is that, right up until the end, Dark Water dangles the possibility that the answer is as prosaic as either vandalizing teenagers or a young mother, still dealing with abandonment issues relating to her own mother, is starting to come unglued. Another strength is that the characters and their lives have a reality that gives the fantastic elements a little more weight. The relationship between Dahlia and Ceci seems real and unforced. Kyle starts off like the typical husband of a movie divorce. In other words, he’s an asshole, but as the story develops and his concerns start to gel, the movie allows us to see him as a father with legitimate concerns. As Ceci’s teacher, Camryn Manheim has a small but memorable role. Even Dahlia’s lawyer (Tim Roth) emerges as a decent guy with a life of his own beyond the confines of the plot.
This film’s cinematographer probably didn’t win many friends among the electrician’s union, as adequate lighting seems to have been left off the shopping list. No doubt this was intentional, as it adds to the film’s oppressively claustrophic look.
My main quibble with this film is identical to my complaint about The Skeleton Key, the apparent need to add a twist ending a la The Sixth Sense. This movie earns its twist a little better than Key and it’s much less of a downer but it still feels tacked on and unnecessary.
By the way, the “unrated” widescreen version, like so many such unrated DVD versions, differs very little from the theatrical version and would still have been rated PG-13. No one gets their head chopped off in this version, nor does Ms. Connelly flash any additional skin. This is another example of an increasingly common and cynical marketing ruse.