I'll come clean right now: I'm an absolute sucker for Jennifer Connelly. Have been ever since 1986, when I saw a movie called Labyrinth, realized that the doe-eyed leading lady was precisely my age, and fell head over heels in (virtual) love. Career Opportunities, The Rocketeer, Higher Learning, Dark City, Waking the Dead, Requiem for a Dream... I never missed a one, and my admiration for the gal's beauty slowly grew into a real admiration for her actual talent. I thought she was the best thing in The Hulk and I even got a little thrill when Jenny won her Oscar for A Beautiful Mind.
Clearly I'm a big fan of the actress, which is why I approached the J-horror remake known as Dark Water with equal parts skepticism, hope, and excitement. Skepticism because most American remakes of Japanese horror films suck dry ice; hope because this particular remake was being helmed by Walter Salles, director of The Motorcycle Diaries; and excitement because, hey, it's another Jennifer Connelly movie!
So after one theatrical visit and one DVD viewing of the Salles-directed, Connelly-centric Dark Water, I can offer this opinion: I think it's better than Hideo Nakata's original. There, I said it. And I'm proud. (Most of the J-Horror staples, Ringu, Ju-On, The Eye, etc., are pretty darn over-praised by my estimation.) Fair warning, though: Dark Water is more Roman Polanski than it is Wes Craven, and anyone who brings the movie home expecting a non-stop jolt-fest may find themselves annoyed. This is a rich and dramatic "psychological thriller" in the strictest sense of an overused phrase. I love rapid-fire slasher flicks as much as the next guy, but Dark Water is a "slow-burn" horror movie that takes its good, glorious time to tell its tale.
The rather simple tale of a divorced young mother, her adorable little girl, and a waterlogged apartment from the less-traveled side of hell, Dark Water is not your conventional stalk-boo-slash-eek sort of haunted-highrise psycho-thriller. Packed with strong performances by solid character actors, wonderfully unsettling production design, crisp, fluid visuals from Salles and cinematographer Affenso Beato, and a wonderfully moody score by Angelo Badalamenti, Dark Water is like an overlooked feast of riches. Extra credit is due to screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (who's now written five films, all of them good) for not only adapting the effective-yet-emotionless original film, but also for bringing some real resonance and thoughtfulness to the story ... particularly the finale.
Dark Water is slow-paced yet never boring, sober and serious, but certainly not drab. The settings, New York's dilapidated Roosevelt Island and one startlingly huge apartment complex, are pitch-perfect: gothic, domineering, and quietly unpleasant.
While the feather in Dark Water's cap is Ms. Connelly's fragile, sympathetic, mildly disconcerting performance, there's more than enough actors' accolades to go around: John C. Reilly offers a great turn as a sleazy landlord; Pete Postlethwaite is suitably gamey as a mysterious superintendent; Tim Roth plays (perfectly) against type as an oddly endearing lawyer; folks like Dougray Scott and Camryn Mannheim do great work in decidedly smaller roles.
Perhaps it took the second visit with Dark Water for me to truly dig what it's slinging, but dig it I surely did. It's the sort of movie that you like a lot more once the end credits have rolled and you've had a little time to contemplate the thing. It's a movie about haunted homes, tortured pasts, and psychological gut-punches. Equal parts quiet, creepy, tragic, and visually gorgeous (and I'm not just talking about the leading lady), Dark Water might be one of the best movies of 2005 that nobody went to see.
Director's Cut notes: Frankly I'm stumped on this one. I believe this version has a slightly speedier pacing, leading me to assume that Salles went back and did some scene-tightening here and there. But if "Connelly Unrated!" is what you're after (and I can't say I'd blame you) you'll have to stick with your 'Requiem for a Dream' DVD.
Video: The "unrated" edition comes in a wonderfully crisp and moody anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. The color palette consists mainly of dark and shadowy hues, and the video quality is nothing short of excellent.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish. Audio quality is well-balanced and quietly effective. And once more I must mention the truly great Badalamenti score; damn good stuff, score-fans.
The main goodies come in featurette form:
Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water is broken up into five chapters: Beyond the Horror (concept & tone), An Island Apart (location), A Director's Vision (Salles' influence on the material), Water By Design (sets & production design), and Deep Water (the H2O FX). Cast & crew members (Salles, Iglesias, Connelly, Reilly, and others) share their thoughts on the aforementioned categories. Watch each chapter individually or as one 17-minute block.
The Sound of Terror: The Subliminal Soundscapes of Dark Water runs about 7 minutes and listens in on the sound design of the film, which is subtly quite excellent. Recording mixer Scott Millan and several aural technicians discuss their input on the movie.
An Extraordinary Ensemble is a 26-minute love-fest in which all the principal players get a nice dose of praise and affection. Not just the actors get the spotlight, though, as everyone from the editor to the cinematographer and the sound designers get some well-earned attention.
There's also an Analyzing Dark Water Scenes feature in which you can dig a little deeper into the Blue Robe and Wall of Water sequences, or spend a little time fiddling with buttons in the Interactive Bathroom Sequence, which isn't exactly what it sounds like. Rounding out the platter is a pair of deleted scenes and a handful of trailers for Flightplan, Annapolis, Shopgirl, Sin City: Recut & Extended, Everything You Want, Shadows in the Sun, and Lost S2.
Or heck, maybe it's just a dry and boring J-horror remake that's earning some praise because of my admiration for the leading lady. But nah, Jenny's done a handful of crappy flicks over the years ... and Dark Water sure the hell isn't one of 'em. Frankly I think it's one of 2005's most tragically overlooked releases. If stuff like Rosemary's Baby floats your horror boat, here's one that comes Highly Recommended.