Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Length Of Drowning Is What Dark Water Feels Like!

The Good: A decent cast
The Bad: Terrible script, Acting, Characters, Pacing!
The Basics: Despite the presence of Jennifer Connelly, Dark Water sinks with poor characters and a story that is more jumbled than scary.

There are performers who are almost universally worth the price of admission, especially if one is offered the opportunity to see them perform for free. So, for example, one need not be a fan of basketball or golf to take advantage of an opportunity to see Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods play. If they showed up, were performing for free, and one had the time, odds are most people would go to see them play. In the acting world, each of us develops artists we enjoy watching perform, even when we learn they are in dubious works. Jennifer Connelly is one such performer in my world. Despite her appearance in the utterly awful Hulk (reviewed here!), she remains one of my favorite people to watch. So, despite never having been grabbed by any of the previews for Dark Water, I decided to give it a shot.

Dahlia and her daughter Ceci have moved into a real dive of an apartment following a bitter divorce proceeding. Dahlia is lonely and her ex-husband accuses her of mental illness, though we suspect this is mostly his jerkish personality. Ceci soon develops an imaginary friend as Dahlia becomes plagued by water dripping in the apartment she is now renting. The water is coming from the apartment above hers, where the occupants are absent, looters invade and apparently a ghost haunts. As the days progress, Dahlia is caught between her fears that she is going mad and her good-faith belief in a supernatural force above her and her daughter.

Dark Water is another in a string of remakes of Japanese horror movies which became popularized in the United States with the cinematic success of The Ring (reviewed here!). That Dark Water is following in this tradition comes as absolutely no surprise when the lawyer Jeff Platzer enters the movie midway through and in the film's resolution. Platzer is more helpful and interventionist than any successful lawyer in the Manhattan area ever would be. And, as for the resolution to the movie, all I can say is that the choice Dahlia makes reflects a very different set of values than the traditional American values.

My point with this is that Dark Water ultimately does not work. It just does not work. If one sets a movie in the United States, it ought to feel like the people are from the United States. The world has different nations filled with different cultures and subcultures and they are, quite simply, not interchangeable. The cumulative effect of the characters in terms of culture and decisions they make is analogous to one making a film about New York City with an all Southern cast.

But the characters themselves suffer from the writing. There is no chemistry, no remnant of anything remotely emotional between Dahlia and her ex-husband Kyle. Kyle is a jerk to such an extent that there is nothing in any of the exchanges between him and Dahlia that suggest they ever had anything that would have resulted in a daughter.

Because the majority of the film dwells on Dahlia, she bears the brunt of the problems of character and of the movie in general. Dahlia suffers from migraines and some serious depression, stemming in part from an abusive childhood. The problem here is that because the first person to accuse her of any form of illness is her ex-husband in the context of a nasty divorce proceeding, we don't take it so seriously. That is, Kyle has no authority or emotional credibility with the audience so when Dahlia begins to become symptomatic of anything other than depression, we are somewhat dubious.

But more than that, this addition feels forced. Dahlia seems like she is trying hard in difficult circumstances and the psychological issues only confuse the plot. The movie stops making sense and the audience never truly feels like they are unsure if this is a ghost story or a psychological horror. It's a ghost story; one of the earliest shots of the movie (Veeck watching Ceci in the elevator) establishes that. The attempt to add depth to the film with the addition of Dahlia's psychological issues feels forced.

Similarly, I was surprised to find Dark Water clocked in at 105 minutes. The pacing of the movie is so off it felt about twice as long. But more importantly, early on in the movie there are a number of scenes with Dahlia and Ceci where the two are established as a normal family, complete with fairly inane and common dialogue. In all honesty, as I watched those early scenes, I felt like the movie was simply killing time waiting for the plot to get started. Those scenes, more than establishing character, feel like filler.

The sole thing Dark Water has going for it is its cast. Jennifer Connelly leads the cast with John C. Reilly and Pete Postlethwaite giving strong supporting performances. Tim Roth ends up in the movie as Dahlia's lawyer and some of the acting burden is dropped on young Ariel Gade, who spends much of her time acting like a disturbed little girl, which is the character she is playing.

The problem is the acting this cast is pulling off is based on a poor script. John C. Reilly adds nothing to the role of the slum lord and Pete Postlethwaite, who I've been impressed with in The Usual Suspects and Alien 3, is put in a role where he is treated like he could be exchanged with anyone. In short, he is not used for any of his talents and he could have been swapped out with any other actor in the world and not have affected the movie.

My sadness here is that Jennifer Connelly appears in this mess, that's two strikes. Connelly has played some awesome, strong women. Indeed, her breakthrough role in Labyrinth was about using her brain and being strong. She was cool. Her role of Emma in Dark City is a positive role model working through difficult circumstances. My point is, I'm used to seeing Connelly in strong female roles where she is in control. In Dark Water, Dahlia is utterly dependent upon men. Whether it is her ex-husband, her landlord, her super or her lawyer, the men make all but two decisions for her in this movie (her daughter makes one of the two the men don't make).

None of the actors give performances to recommend them and the movie often does not work. Finally, the movie is poorly shot and that is what ultimately made me decide to rate it as low as I did. There are several scenes that the lighting is too dark, making it impossible to tell what is going on.

I gave Dark Water a chance and there simply wasn't enough to keep my interest or recommend this movie. Far better than this, for fans of Japanese psychological horror, is Perfect Blue.

For other works with John C. Reilly, be sure to read my reviews of:
Cedar Rapids
Step Brothers
Hard Eight


Check out how this movie stacks up against others by visiting my specialized Movie Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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