|Starring:||Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Camryn Manheim, Pete Postlethwaite, and Ariel Gade|
Dahlia’s life is changing. With a pending divorce, she is forced to find a new place to live and raise her daughter, Ceci, with little direct involvement of her estranged husband. She definitely didn’t need a haunting.
“Dark Water” is a horror film that suffers from a lack of commitment. Its story and characters are as murky as the water that flows endlessly throughout it. And with all that running water, many audience members might develop a strong urge to pee.
When we meet Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) early in the film, she is waiting patiently in the hallway outside a divorce mediator’s office. Her husband arrives and the two do brief battle about the particulars of their court assisted parting. As an aside, this same technique is used in next week’s “Wedding Crashers” with arguably better results. Soon, Dahlia and her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) take up refuge in a terrible apartment with reasonably close proximity to Manhattan. Non-New Yorkers might find this choice of apartments hard to believe, but in the Big Apple location is really everything.
From the very first impression, Dahlia isn’t sure about the place. The apartment manager, Mr. Murray (a very funny John C. Reilly), describes the building as having been built in the most brutal of ways. Brutal is right, the place looks like a dorm or prison. And the place sweats or leaks all over. There’s water trickling and dripping at every turn, which is not a good sign.
In time, Dahlia begins to have nightmares and the leaks get worse and something strange is going on upstairs. But Dahlia isn’t all there either; she takes medication, which causes her to “lose whole days.” And her agreeable divorce attorney (played by Tim Roth) doesn’t have an office, working out of his car. Hmmm, sounds like someone I know.
Good horror films tend to take sides and make it easy for the audience to identify the good and the evil. These films often fall into two categories: (1) the worldly or natural; and (2) the otherworldly or supernatural. “Jaws” and “Silence of the Lambs” are premium examples of natural or worldly horror thrillers whereas “The Exorcist” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and its progeny might be solid examples of supernatural horror films. Then there are films that try to mix both and some succeed with “The Ring” (the Hollywood remake) of note. But this approach can be a difficult balancing act and produce a laughable failure as was displayed in the “The Ring Two” earlier this year.
Thankfully, “Dark Water” is overall more effective dramatically than the “Ring” sequel but is less fun and hardly scary. The “Ring” sequel was lifted a bit by a weird and shocking scene involving a nature attack, all those CGI deer. “Dark Water” takes its story seriously but wants to be mysterious where it should be providing explanations. Not much is revealed even at the end about Dahlia’s troubled past. And the glimpses we do get are muddled and confusing. This confusion makes it hard to empathize with Dahlia played by the talented Jennifer Connelly. Oscar winner Connelly does a good job with the little the role requires of her, but I would have preferred her completely nutty or perfectly straight dealing with the haunting. Here she is somewhere in between, which I found oh so frustrating.
From the trailers, it appears that “Dark Water” is billed as a ghost story but the film straddles the fence there as well. Maybe there is a ghost or maybe it is all the product of Dahlia’s mental illness. And we aren’t sure whether the ghost, if it exists, is good or evil. There’s just a complete lack of commitment which is painfully played out in the film’s closing moments.
Still, there are good things about this film. It looks great! The cinematography, and I know very little about that subject, seems impressive with standout aerial shots of the film’s best set piece, the huge apartment complex, creating a solid ominous tone. Unfortunately, the story goes nowhere and feels stale. I don’t know, maybe it needed a nature attack to get my blood pumping.