Hideo Nakata I 2003 I Japan
The problem with Dark Water is its lack of subtlety. Right, so it does avoid special effects, blood gore and whatnot [solely for that reason it should be admired] but often its obviousness threatens to turn it into something lesser than what it could have been. And indeed, it does not just threaten to do it and but it ultimately fulfills its mission. Halfway into the film we already discover the cause of it all, and as a result of this the level of interest is somewhat lessened; and even more so because further on, when the director unravels his "twist", it seems to me as though he thinks we didn't know. Wrong. Mind you, as a moderate horror fan, I rather liked Dark Water, though I did expect a lot more. Hideo Nakata's latest pales in comparison to his masterwork Ringu and stands as a shallower [no pun intended] film. It's well worth the effort, however, but, for some reason to another, it fails to entirely satisfy.
The film tells the story of a recently divorced mother named Yoshimi Matsubara [Hitomi Kuroki], who, having won the custody of her little daughter, decides to move into a new home and make a new start. The apartment is old, and, apart from being less than perfect, has a constantly leaking ceiling. She contacts the landlord but he simply ignores her. "The humidity in here is so unreal", she mentions at one point. Her daughter is sent to a new kindergarten and Yoshimi gets a new job -- however, what could be a happy new life is turned into a dreadful nightmare. And all because of a mysterious little girl dressed in a yellow raincoat who disappeared two years ago...
If I was to point out the greatest asset of the film, I'd no doubt jump up and say, "the atmosphere". Sordid, nightmarish and dreary, it manages to immerse the viewer into the film from the very start. If in Ringu nameless videotapes were made to look scary, then just you wait till you see what Nakata does here with leaks. What at first sight may seem like something insignificant is transformed into something very perturbing. Leaks; they drip and they trickle, making that unnerving sound that stands your hair on end. At least thats how Nakata depicts them here. Instead of relying on slimy monsters, flesh-eating zombies or stalking murderers, Nakata uses every day objects such as a kid's red bag or a bathroom to unsettle the audience. Surprisingly, it works incredibly well, and maintains that sense of a plausible reality, thus making it all the more demoralizing. His thoughtful cinematography, though not as effective of that used by Kubrick in The Shining, is one of the most crucial elements of the film. Here Nakata uses his camera to show us the characters in danger, and in order to do that he ingeniously weaves an unceasing claustrophobia that never lets go. A sense of paranoia constantly lurks within the film's running time, as does the dread that not only wraps around the film's character, but around us, too. Kenji Kawai's offbeat, penetrating score seamlessly integrates with the film's surroundings and does a perfect job in building up the suspense.
The acting is fine; Kuroki, as the baffled, protective mother, knows how to display a variety of emotions, but most of all, weakness. She knows how to scream properly or how to react when she sees a hair in a glass of water; all in all, she is suitable for a role like hers and does her job as it should be done. Her daughter [Rio Kanno], who plays the six-year old Ikuko is thoroughly great, as well. Now that we're done with all the positive facets of the film, of which there are a fair amount, it's time to point out all the negative ones. Horror films nowadays, whichever way you look at, tend to be rather poor. It is in the independent and Asian ones on which a horror movie buff must rely in order to find a good deal of more than decent films of this type. One of the reasons for the utter badness of terror-oriented movies is that they have no trepidation whatsoever. Unlike such, Dark Water does have tension, but lamentably not enough - and all for its own detriment. Its suspense is well conceived, images of terror are finely evoked; but it lacks that relentless, incisive sort of tension, of which films such as Les Diaboliques or Suspiria had in abundance. This causes the proceeding moments to be duller than they could have - should have - been and even its payoff fails to do them justice. The film ends on a more than melodramatic, cheesy tone, when instead it should've ended with a scene reminding us that evil never dies, that the menace still persists. Films like The Birds or Halloween taught us this: that nightmares seldom reach an end. The film's pace is slow, and even though it could have easily worked [see The Sixth Sense], at times it slows down a tad too much and becomes slightly tedious. Director Nakata knows where he wants to lead the film, but sometimes he doesn't know how to. He's got the finish line, but how is he going to get there? It is clear that he is a master at creating scenes of unrivalled terror; sequences like the bathtub one or the one set in the elevator [though inferior to that of The Eye's] are all magnificently arranged. However, when there are so many faults with the film [it is also very predictable and reaches a more than obvious conclusion], one cannot say that it's great. Dark Water has the potential, and, although it's not a bad film or a failure by any means, it disappoints in some of its key departments. And that's a darn shame.