Dir: Walter Salles. US.2005. 100mins.
Hideo Nakata's elegant2002 Japanese chiller Dark Water makes a smooth transition to a New YorkCity setting in its US remake thanks to an intelligent screenplay by RafaelYglesias and intense direction in his English-language debut by Walter Salles.
But while a moreself-possessed film than the Hollywood redos of Nakata's own The Ring orTakashi Shimizu's The Grudge, the film is also a more adult one and itwon't be a big turn-on for the teenage date crowd which lapped up those movies.
Indeed, Dark Watermay be a J-Horror remake, but it plays like a complex psychological thriller.Salles is, as his oeuvre might suggest, more interested in the human drama thana cheap fright. He focuses the film almost exclusively on the lead femalecharacter - played here by Jennifer Connelly - a woman on the verge of anervous breakdown who suspects that she and her daughter are being haunted intheir new apartment.
Or are they' Salles andYglesias have amped up the paranoia in their version of the story and thecharacter's sanity is on the line. In this version, she takes migraine tablets,loses whole days and might be the victim of sexual predators. Even she doubtsher own sanity. It's a smart take on the material, but one which adds anotherstory level and dilutes the creepy crescendo of frights which Nakata is soexpert at creating.
But then Bill Mechanic -this is his first production since he left Fox - and Disney must have beenplanning a more classy package when they drafted in talent like Yglesias,Salles and Connelly. There's not a cast member of Buffy in sight. So DarkWater might not achieve Grudge or Ring numbers at home (whereit opens on July 8) or overseas, but it will play respectably on theatricalruns, and its ancillary market value will be considerable.
One of the chief coups inYglesias' adaptation is setting it in Roosevelt Island - a two-mile-long stripof land in the East River of New York City which is home to a number of gloomyconcrete high-rise apartment projects designed in the "Brutalist" style.Boasting fine views of Manhattan, it is as far removed from the big city buzzas Nakata's dreary suburban high-rise in Tokyo.
Connelly plays Dahlia, awoman abandoned as a child by her mother and abused by her father, who hasseparated from her husband Kyle (Scott) and is desperately clinging on tocustody of her daughter Ceci (Gade) in a bitter custody battle with her ex.Mother and daughter are looking for a new apartment but can only afford a placeon the ninth floor of a high rise on Roosevelt Island shown to them by thedubious managing agent Mr Murray (Reilly).
On their first visit to viewthe apartment, Ceci runs off to the roof of the building and discovers anabandoned Hello Kitty! Bag which her mother forces her to leave in the lost andfound section with the building manager Veeck (Postlethwaite).
It's a torrential rainseason in New York City (most of the film takes place in pouring rain bleaklyshot by Affonso Beato) but that doesn't explain why there is a leak in theirapartment. Dahlia asks Murray and Veeck to repair it but neither responds, andeven though the apartment above 10F is unoccupied, she hears a child's runningfootsteps.
Meanwhile Ceci has adoptedan imaginary friend called Natasha who is alarming the teachers at her newschool (Camryn Manheim chief among them) and not helping Dahlia's custody case.As Dahlia begins to investigate, she discovers that the former inhabitants of10F abandoned their daughter Natasha and that her Hello Kitty! Bag and thewater cooler on top of the bulding might hold the key to Natasha's subsequentdisappearance.
Salles has assembled animpressive cast - including Tim Roth as Connelly's cheap, nebbish lawyer - andcreated an intriguing tableau of urban alienation and parental anxiety incontemporary America. Although Dahlia makes the ultimate sacrifice for herdaughter, as in the original film, she at least gets to win back her husband'srespect and solve the Natasha mystery, unlike the hapless Yoshimi in Nakata'sstory who spirals into despair and isolation.
The disturbing use of water,which permeates the concrete mass of Roosevelt Island in every possible way, isa powerful motif, although Nakata himself stole it himself in the recent US Ringsequel, which lifted the imaginary friend, child-ghost in need of a mother andominous water idea directly from Dark Water.
Rafael Yglesias, from the novel by Honogurai Mizuno Soko Kara by Koji Suzukiand the film Dark Water directed by Hideo Nakata
John C Reilly