Walter Salles’ Dark Water is a gripping exercise in horror that opts for subtlety over bombast as it delivers legitimately creepy entertainment and, more surprisingly, a genuinely moving love story.
Jennifer Connelly portrays Dahlia Williams, a beleaguered woman who’s forced to move into a rundown apartment on Roosevelt Island, a stone’s throw from Manhattan. This does not sit well with her estranged husband (Dougray Scott), who puts her through the wringer in a custody battle for their daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade). That stress helps trigger Dahlia’s memories of abuse that she has long repressed. Compounding her anxiety are strange incidents: a growing leak in the ceiling of her bedroom, the sound of footsteps in the abandoned upstairs apartment, and her discovery of cascades of dark water in this unit.
Salles does a masterful job of slowly building tension as the film becomes progressively darker and the shots of the characters tighter. Equally effective is how the building and surrounding structures come to resemble both a maze and a prison, reflecting Dahlia’s deteriorating state of mind.
Connelly is very good here, giving a complete performance as a woman who is losing her grip on reality. Although her scenes of despair are convincing, the moments she shares with Gade are genuine and touching, and they prove essential in delivering the film’s moving climax. The young actress gives an unaffected performance that wonderfully completes the illusion that we are seeing a real mother and daughter interact, and a supporting turn from John C. Reilly as the landlord of the complex is a darkly comic performance that should be remembered at Oscar time.
Dark Water is a remake of Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s Honogurai mizu no soko kara (2002). Nakata’s Ringu, released in 1998, was Americanized as The Ring in 2002.