Dark Water (2005)
By: Trist Jones.on February 20, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. Danish, English, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish Subtitles. (Australia). Buena Vista 94 minutes
The Movie
Director: Walter Salles
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dougray Scott, Tim Roth, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite
Screenplay: Rafael Yglesias
Country: USA
I knew when I picked this one up to set my expectations low. I remember asking my brother, who is a huge J-horror fan, whether the Dark Water remake had hit the cinemas here on a number of occasions, and even he wasn't sure what had happened to it. After a massive delay, the film lasted a week in Aussie cinemas. Bad sign. There was also the incredible amount of anticipation and pre-hype in America, followed by ruthless critical lambasting among the horror circles. Worse sign. The tag one of the websites gave it kept ringing in my head; "Oscar Horror", and that automatically spells trouble in my book.

Riding on the coat tails of the American remake of The Ring and The Grudge, Dark Water stars Jennifer Connolly, along with John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite, Tim Roth and Dougray Scott as it dumbs down an already mediocre tale of a woman who moves into an apartment building to find that the apartment directly above is home to a despondent spectre. The story is tit for tat of the original, throwing in a couple of things here and there to make it suit the American way of life, though nowhere near as much as The Ring did.

Now, The Ring pretty much set the standard for J-horror in the west, and how to go about remaking it. The Grudge was a disappointingly substandard and befuddling film and the remake was shot for shot with the added exposition required to allow the general mass that is America to take it like the sugar-coated pill that it was. This was one of my biggest problems with Dark Water, both this one and the original. It's a poser film. The original paraded itself as though it were the next big thing in horror because it was made by the same people who made Ringu, when really it was a ghost drama, along the same lines as The Sixth Sense. The American version is the same, but seems to forget for large sections at a time that there is a ghost in the building and becomes a full on dramatic piece. Then when it does remember, it pulls all the usual tricks to make us remember that "shit! That's right, this is supposed to be a horror flick!" and goes nuts with the flowing of spook-water. Dark Water reeks of pandering to the masses, with it's cast of all-stars (who do admittedly turn in rather good performances) and overly developed dramatic subplots it will automatically draw in those looking for "high calibre" films with name actors, and seriously overrated moments of horror to lure the rest. I'm not going to spoil the ending of either for those who want to see them, but for those who have seen the original, the ending is completely bastardised, spelling out exactly what happens and making what is actually a very touching moment in the original another piece of melodramatic garbage spewed forth by the remake machine.

If you liked the original, there is probably a lot to like here. Scenes are faithfully reproduced and characters are all immediately recognisable, but in spite of looking like the original, there's too much Hollywood to it. The original had a very subverted score, doing what Ringu did and letting the appropriate silences and less musical soundscape create the tension. Here it's dramatic score all the way, so much so that it almost makes the film readable if you haven't seen either before. Numerous scenes would have worked so much better if it weren't for the standard 'increasing violins' and 'tension' moments of scoring telling you how to feel. There's a few great little moments (note sarcasm) in the extras where the sound designer and music composer explain how they attempted to manipulate the audience with sound, to tell the audience that 'this is what's happening now'. It's exactly the same with the editing, too!

Having made films myself, I found myself continually questioning the editing of this film. So many jump cuts and inconsistent transitions that would revert back to things unnecessarily, and so many things we didn't need to be shown. If the audience wasn't shown particular things, then the horror of particular sequences would be far greater, and the film's already through the roof predictability would be significantly lower. It wasn't until I watched the scene analysis that I found my answers. There's a golden rule in writing pretty much anything for entertainment, but particularly books and films that you show and do not tell! It was almost insulting hearing this editor tell me that I "needed to be told" particular things because otherwise I wouldn't get it. I couldn't believe I actually heard someone who worked on a big budget motion picture promote the opposite of what makes good suspense films suspenseful. How much were we told in The Shining? All it had to do was show us something and let the audience piece it together for themselves with only a little bit of pre-emptive telling. Dark Water just draws the diagrams and shouts everything at you.

I could really only salvage a couple of things from this film that truly worked. There is a single shot revealing the spread of the dark water in the bedroom that is kind of unnerving, and that only takes up a second of the hundred or so minutes it clocks in at. Jennifer Connolly turns in a fairly decent performance that makes you wish they'd just made this an all out drama so she could get another Oscar and everyone could move on. The rest just tries so hard and fails miserably.
The print transfer is perfect, there's not a blemish in sight. The colours are perpetually washed out in the film itself, very much like The Ring, but far more green as opposed to The Ring's blue toning, and the contrast is extreme. The only problem with this is that the shadowing becomes more of an obstruction than a mood-setter and at times feels completely unrealistic, even for a film like this. It's presented in 2.35:1, so it retains the cinematic ratio (for those few who can compare the experience).
I could go on forever about how over elaborate the sound is in this film. EVERYTHING has to make it's own noise in this. It gets to a point where it's so obvious; spelling out that something is wrong, and effectively killing the suspense completely. It does however sound very impressive on the speakers, and I would recommend anyone trying to sell surround sound set ups to use this film as a demonstration, because believe me, it uses every speaker as much as it can.
Extra Features
From the outset, it looks as though Dark Water has a lot of extras. Quantity doesn't always mean quality though. The extras speak to you like an idiot for the most part, dumbing down and repeating most things in the behind the scenes docos, and not really telling you anything that you couldn't have already worked out from watching the film, or any other behind the scenes docos. They skim over just about everything very loosely and the only in depth extras were, as I said, almost insulting to sit through (especially the Scene Analysis).

Deleted scenes consist of two very, very brief moments that got the chop, without any explanation as to why, and the Alternate Sequence entitled Wall of Water is an incredible let down. There's also a short featurette called Extraordinary Ensemble, which basically has the actors telling you why they signed on for the film.
The Verdict
As I said, I wasn't a huge fan of the original. Ringu set the J-Horror standard for me and I haven't come across anything yet that's come close (no matter how much it's touted as doing so), so when Dark Water came along claiming to be all that and more, I was bitterly disappointed. This however is a horror film travesty. It, like the stains that riddle it, starts off small and bearable, but grows into a bigger mess as the minutes go by.
Movie Score
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