Dark Water: Unrated Widescreen Edition
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (18th January 2006).
The Film

Pop quiz: youíre a talented filmmaker from Brazil who has recently released a critically acclaimed masterpiece, now itís time to make your English language debut and decide to re-make a Japanese horror. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? You see the filmmaker in question is Walter Salles, in 2004 he made The Motorcycle Diaries (personally one of my favorite films of 2004) in 2005 he followed that up with Dark Water a film that didnít really make a splash at the box office. J-horror (Japanese Horror) has recently surged in popularity, and so has adapting them for the English speaking market packing them with A-list celebrities and a marketing budget far greater than the cost of the film (see The Grudge, The Ring and The Ring 2 etc). That seems to be the case with Dark Water. Letís get one thing straight first: I really wanted to love this movie (mainly because of the lovely Jennifer Connelly) but Walter Salles and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias really made that hard for me. Oh yeah and the answer to the pop quiz is Ďbad thingí.
The premise for Dark Water is really quite simple, newly divorced mother Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is looking to start a new life. Her asshole husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) wants to sue for custody of their child Ceci (Ariel Gade) because sheís decided to move to an apartment thatís just too far from the city and is terribly inconvenient for dad to make visits to. This apartment complex, which is affordable, is also a dark and unwelcoming crap hole that appears to be have been designed by fascists because the place resembles a communist administration building. But something Ďtellsí Ceci that this is the place and that they should move in immediately, which they do. When a mysterious leak begins to form on their ceiling, that seems to take on a life of its own, and somehow seems to Ďcallí out to her little girl. Thatís right Ceci starts to imagine a friend, this creeps mom out but doesnít make the connection that it has something to do with the dark water leaking into her apartment. Strange things begin to happen to Dahlia that eventually drives her crazy but she desperately tries to uncover the reason for these occurrences and the link it shares with her own daughter.
Letís start with the basics, Dark Water has a few things right. One of those things is the casting. Jennifer Connelly has already proven she can act, and here she continues that tradition by creating a very sympathetic and flawed character. Her motivation is her daughter, being a mother herself Iím sure channeling that was not hard and she does a fine job. Having a character that one can sympathize with in a horror involves the audience. Additionally the support cast is great in their own right, especially Pete Postlethwaite as the buildings superintendent Veeck. His characterization is mysterious and suspicious adding to the overall feeling and tone of the film. Heís slightly off-kilter and youíre never really sure about his motivations. Perfect. The always great John C. Reilly plays the dodgy land-lord frustratingly well and is severely underused, and the where has he been lately Tim Roth breezes through his role and doesnít really try to add anything to what is in effect a totally unmemorable character.
As far as Horrors go, Salles has the look down solid. The film has an uneasy feel to it from the moody lighting and use of green in the color palate to the constant rain that buckets down. The best way to describe it is that this film looks like what the character Dahlia must feel like. Salles has created a disturbing mood with cinematographer Affonso Beato and utilized a location that best suits the story.
The filmís major problem is the filmís blueprint, its script. Where do I begin? Letís start with Dahliaís relationship with her estranged husband. Her divorce and conflict over custody with her ex-husband feels like it was written to provide added drama. Drama that was entirely unnecessary and convoluted the overall story, itís as if Salles couldnít decide what was more interesting: the family drama or the fact the haunting of the apartment. Personally I would have gone with the latter.
There were also other elements that seemed to have been placed in the film to create drama. One that comes to mind is the brief disappearance of Ceci. Dahlia, like any mother, freaked out. But moments later it seemed like she forgot about her entirely and moments after that everything is resolved when sheís returned to her and we discover she was with dad all along. Was there any point to this?
Another area that bothered me was that there didnít seem like there was any journey for the character of Dahlia. There were flashbacks to her past (that she had an abusive father and an alcoholic mother), but aside from being brought up in the film and the occasional dream/flashback, it never really went anywhere other than show Dahlia as an emotionally fragile person and to have something to scare the viewer with. It didnít really add anything more to the story. I think the concept of the haunting must have escaped the filmmakers during points of this film.
Itís not a great film and it may not be a good film, but some people might get a kick out of it, hey according to the cover Pete Hammond from Maxim magazine seems to think that even Hitchcock could not have done it better, if you liked it in the theater then you may still like it on DVD, if youíve never seen it before I suggest a rental prior to purchase.

Video

The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. Itís anamorphic and a pure pleasure to watch. The image is sharp and clean. The film is predominantly quite dark and I found that the blacks are rich and bold, shadow detail is fine but I saw room for improvement as some dark scene were a little hard to see actions. The colors are well represented and appropriately dull and sullen. I did however notice some edge enhancement which makes an unfortunate appearance here; aside from this is a very good transfer.

Audio

Only one audio track is included on this release an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The dialogue was very clear and distortion free, and felt for the most part quite subtle and did not have as much depth as I was expecting. Directional surrounds werenít as defined as they should have been and also the music felt like background filler more than anything else. A richer track would have easily involved the viewer and enveloped them into the experience but instead it felt distant. Iím not sure whether this was something the filmmakerís indented, if it was or not I still think a punchier track would have been a nice touch, oh well maybe next time.
The film also includes optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

First up we have the Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water this is a series of 5 featurettes in a sub-menu, you have the option to view them separately or you can select the 'Play All' function. The featurettes are:
- Beyond the Horror which runs for 3 minutes 48 seconds, in this clip we learn what the film is about, its themes and tone. The principle cast and crew discuss their intentions of making a horror film that breaks the standard genre mold, in focusing more on character development than cheap scares. We also get an insight into what attracted the cast and crew to this project.
- An Island Apart runs for 3 minutes 1 second and takes a look at the filmís location of Roosevelt Island in New York City and how itís as much a character as the people are. Although itís close to Manhattan the island has a completely different feel that is very uniformed, industrialized and claustrophobic. Which made it the right location to set the events in this film as it captures the mood the filmmakers were after perfectly.
- A Director's Vision runs for 1 minute 43 seconds and focuses on, you guessed it, the directorís vision and how it ultimately won over the producers in choosing Salles for this job. There is also a fair amount of back patting and praise here too.
- Water by Design runs for 4 minutes 35 seconds and takes a look at the filmís production design, from dressing the locations, to the sets, the choosing of the color palette, etc. They tried to keep a level of realism to the filmís visual style and design and also utilized colors such as grey and green to evoke an uncomfortable feeling from the viewer. The piece also looks at the evolution of the ceiling stain/leak in the 7 various stages as well as the bathroom sceneís downpour.
- Deep Water runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds and focuses on the water in the film, just like the location the water is also a character that takes shape during the course of the film. The filmmakers tried to make the water seem like the buildings bloodline, and the constantly raining setting is used as a narrative effect. An interesting side note from this clip is that Ariel Gade who plays Ceci is afraid of being under water.

Next up is the "The Sound of Terror: The Subliminal Soundscapes of Dark Water" featurette which runs for 7 minutes 18 seconds. This clip takes a closer look at the filmís sound design and how sound is used to manipulate the audience. The importance here is creating psychologically disturbing sound and seamlessly integrating it with the visuals. It also looks at creating an eerie organic sound for the water itself primarily the leak in the ceiling.

Following that we have 2 deleted scenes, they are:
- Dahlia at the Laundromat which runs for 42 seconds, this scene takes place after the scene where Dahlia is trying to wash her clothes in the buildingís basement laundry room. As she talks on her cell phone she realizes that Mr. Veeck may be lying about the owner of the Hello Kitty back pack.
- Ceci and Kyle in the Car runs for 1 minute 7 seconds, this scene takes place near the end of the film, before Kyle clears out the apartment. Heís concerned that Ceci may be still afraid of the place, but it turns out she is not and accompanies her father.

Next up is the "An Extraordinary Ensemble" featurette which runs for 25 minutes 50 seconds. This being Sallesí first Hollywood feature the producers wanted to surround him with a high caliber cast and crew. This piece looks at these people and their involvement and thoughts on the film and their characters as well as the key crew. Itís mostly informative but there is a fair amount of praise handed around and doesnít get too detailed.

Following that is the Analyzing Dark Water Sequences in the sub-menu you will find 3 featurettes that take a close look at the scenes and explain itís purpose and reveal trivia about it, you can view separately or with a 'Play All' option. They include:
- Blue Robe runs for 2 minutes 48 seconds and takes a look at the scene were Dahlia realizes that itís not Ceci under the robe.
- Wall of Water runs for 2 minutes 46 seconds and takes a look at the scene where Dahlia has a nightmare and it starts raining inside the apartment, giving the effect that the walls are bleeding dark water, this scene was a last minute idea and was eventually used, although the director wasnít entirely sure about it.
- Last up is the Interactive Bathroom Sequence which runs for 1 minute 37 seconds, here you can watch the scene with 7 different soundtrack options that include: audio commentary from re-recording sound mixer Scott Millan, as well as viewing the scene with Raw Production Sound, Ambient Sound Effects", "ADR", "Foley Sound Effects", "Music" and "Final Mix".

Rounding out the discís extras are a series of bonus trailers, these are sneak peeks of other Buena Vista films and DVDís, they include: "Anapolis", that runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds, "Flightplan" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds, "Shopgirl" for 2 minutes 19 seconds, "Sin City: Recut and Extended DVD" for 1 minute 40 seconds, "Shadows in the Sun & Everything You Want DVDs" runs for 1 minute 1 second and finally "Lost: Season Two" promo that runs for 1 minute 31 seconds. The previews for Annapolis", "Flightplan" and "Shopgirl" play before the filmís menu but can be skipped by pressing the Ďmenuí button.

Overall

Dark Water is a flawed horror that features a fine performance by Connelly, but ultimately it is the script that ultimately let the film down. Buena Vista have included a decent transfer and a serviceable sound track with a collection of extras that provide a brief look at the filmís making, a more in-depth making-of documentary and a filmmakerís audio commentary would probably have been a good choice but are unfortunately not present on this disc.

The Film: C Video: A Audio: B Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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