A Wolf in Crappy Clothing
Finally, a movie about the horrors of plumbing. I’ve been waiting for a film like this ever since moving into my apartment, which has pipes like a heroin addict has veins. The water leaves a brown residue, and tastes like copper and dysentery, which I use as an excuse to make Kraft dinner with Coca Cola. Plus, the perpetual gurgling reminds me of an old person dying, which does not help with my insomnia. That’s not the only problem with my place, either. The hardwood floors are warped, I can hear the neighbors yelling at American Idol, and any corpses I try to stack in the closet eventually liquefy due to the poor ventilation and stifling heat. Regardless, I stay, mostly because I dread moving more than I fear death itself, because anytime I pack, I lose an integral part of my crap collection, like a mint condition copy of Crystar, Crystal Warrior #8 or the Gerri in my Spice Girls chocolate bar set. Not that my landlord cares one whit for my concerns, as he’s pretty much the same guy as the character played by John C. Reilly in the film. Reilly’s landlord isn’t sleazy or crooked, he’s just uncaring, but he’s pleasant as well, which is how he manages to convince Jennifer Connolly and her daughter to move into a decrepit building on Roosevelt Island, a slummy area just outside of New York. Once she does, particularly unsetting events begin to occur, ones that make her suspect that her building may in fact be haunted by a fan of Japanese horror films.
Yup. Nothing scarier than Cousin It.
Connelly, as usual, puts in a fine performance in this remake of Hideo Nakata’s film, though I can never get past the fears that her eyebrows are going to bush out to Blue Lagoon proportions and turn her into a braying Brooke Shields clone. She’s joined by a cast of players that are surprisingly talented for a doomed August horror film. Chief among these is Camryn Manheim, an immensely talented actress who manages to disappear into every role despite her distinctive appearance. Wait, did I say ‘immensely talented’? Because I just meant ‘immense’. Clearly, any talent she possesses has come from devouring smaller, less powerful actors, but I’d argue that the Wendigo approach is more effective here than the Stanislavski Method. Connelly really fits into the role of a depressive young mother, which is helped out by the sickly green and yellow color scheme used by director Walter Salles to create an effective atmosphere of terror.
Or at least it would be effective, if anything actually happened. You see, atmosphere is all well and good, but if I’ve learned anything from The Fog, it’s that you can have all kinds of creepy music and eerie cinematography, but if the only pay-off is a guy in a fright wig coming out of what looks like vaporized cotton balls, or some such nonsense, you’re going to leave the audience disappointed. And that’s what’s wrong with Dark Water. It’s not scary. At all. But then again, I don’t really think that it’s supposed to be. This film isn’t really about ghosts, or horror, or anything like that, though it uses those tropes as a framework. The film is actually about a sick woman, depressive and suicidal and suffering through fears of inadequacy as a mother, all the while forced to take care of her daughter alone in a scary building that has Pete Postlethwaite as a superintendent, an experience probably akin to having Paul Bernardo wait your table at Denny’s. Dark Water isn’t about a ghost, it’s about a single mother battling mental illness, hence Salles’ disease-based color scheme. And that’s a good thing. I think that well-made films have a tendency to appear to be about one thing, but are about something else entirely, using genre and narrative as window dressing to mislead the audience, like buying a Maxim magazine because it has Jeri Ryan on the cover only to find that the inside is full of useless reviews of bass fishing video games and barely literate letters to the editor about cigars. That’s why Invasion of the Body Snatchers is really about communism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is about creationism, and this website is about recruiting people to Stormfront. It’s also why every film made in the America is about a Catholic view of redemption, which is odd, because everyone in Hollywood is either Jewish, Buddhist, or ‘spiritual’, which is what high school and college-age girls are when they want to say Christian but can’t deal with the ‘no giving head in a bar bathroom before marriage’ Commandment. Dark Water, then, is not a movie about long-haired Asian ghosts, or haunted apartments, or even horror at all. It’s about how my landlord is a dick.