On this day back in 2005, amidst a surfeit of summer blockbusters – WAR OF THE WORLDS, BATMAN BEGINS and REVENGE OF THE SITH – came one of the few J-horror remakes that actually complimented its precursor: Brazilian director Walter Salles’ DARK WATER.

Based on Hideo Nakata’s (RINGU) 2002 film of the same name, DARK WATER relates the plight of Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly), “settling into” her new home with her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) after a failed marriage. Beggars can’t be choosers and desperate times find the two in an inordinately unkempt apartment block that shares much more in common with an asylum than it does an idyllic abode for a single mom to raise her offspring.


Bar the odd exception, ghost stories rarely tend to succeed in crawling under my skin, but what’s particularly effective about DARK WATER is the fact that Salles is far more concerned with grounding the film with his characters’ own demons than he is on cattle-prodding his audience at every opportune moment. The stake that really drives the film into the ground and holds the movie together is Connelly’s portrayal of Dahlia, a remorselessly accurate depiction of a disintegrating mother doing her utmost to conceal her fears in an attempt to protect her daughter; a deep-seated determination provoked by the abandonment she suffered at the hands of her own mother. Connelly’s performance is paramount to the authenticity and intimacy of this slow-burning pot-boiler and Salles’ decision to create such as character-driven creepshow provided (and continues to provide) a much-needed departure from the paranormal norm. This credibility is also buoyed by the fact that when Ceci makes a new imaginary friend, the initial diagnosis is that it’s her escape mechanism kicking in after her parents’ failed marriage, rather than something supernatural.

Oftentimes, an ensemble cast is no surefire guarantee for success, but the entire supporting cast put in eerily effective performances too, particularly John C. Reilly as the fraudulent real estate agent with ninja skills in the art of deception and the late, great Pete Postlethwaite as Veeck, the gruff and detached caretaker.

Walter Salles, Pete Postlethwaite and John C. Reilly
Walter Salles, Pete Postlethwaite and John C. Reilly

Whilst the performances are the real shoulders that carry DARK WATER and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s no jump fest flick a la PARANORMAL ACTIVITY et al., Affonso Beato’s dark, dismal and disquieting cinematography and long-term David Lynch collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti’s brooding score are a killer combination and you really do end up feeling like you’re in that dingy, drippy apartment block along with the ill-fated protagonists.

Down to sheer coincidence, what makes DARK WATER that much more perturbing is a horrifying event that took place in 2013, 8 years after the film’s theatrical release, which bore terrifying similarities with some of the key plot elements. Many of you will most likely recall the incident I’m referring to as the CCTV footage of a woman entering an elevator and acting in an unusual manner was international news. The woman in question was Elisa Lam who was found dead in a water tank several days later at the Cecil Hotel after a number of guests had complained of the water tasting “funny.”

On bringing this article to an end, I moseyed over to Rotten Tomatoes to check its rating and was surpised – and miffed – to see it sitting at a meager 46%. My advice, though, is to not be put off by the naysayers, particularly if you share my penchant for the more subtle and stylized shockers out there…



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