You’ve just moved into a new flat. The wallpaper’s curling, the room smells like a dead rat and there’s a damp patch on the ceiling. You’d call a plumber, right? Well, if this story of things going bump in the pipes is anything to go by, you’d be better off finding an exorcist.
Adapting another tome by Ringu scribe Kôji Suzuki (Asia’s answer to Stephen King), director Hideo Nakata delivers more shivers in this creepy ghost story. Recently divorced Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) is trying to juggle a career and single motherhood, taking her six-year-old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno) to live in an apartment block.
Things swiftly take a turn for the supernatural when first there’s the damp patch that won’t stop trickling, then the ceaseless drizzle is followed by ghostly apparitions, strange noises and Ikuko developing a worrying habit of wandering off. Initially convinced that it’s her ex-husband trying to drive her mad, Yoshimi starts to realise there’s a nasty secret lurking somewhere in the building’s water supply.
Never quite as insidiously horrific as Ringu (but haunting all the same), Dark Water blends the psychological shocks of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion with the “is-it-real?” uncertainty of Don’t Look Now. Easily outstripping most recent Hollywood scare-fare, it emerges as a masterful Eastern nightmare that’s less interested in gore than creating an atmosphere of skin-shrivelling terror. Just watch how Nakata manages to turn banal routines – walking down a corridor, taking the elevator – into dread-dripping set-pieces that’ll reduce grown men to gibbering wrecks.
Only the waterlogged finale dampens the effect, suspense disappearing down the plughole as a confusing epilogue swirls into view. It may or may not be a cop-out, but no matter – Dark Water is another example of why Japan is the current world leader in shocking cinema. And yes, a Hollywood remake’s already in the pipeline.
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The kind of horror film that's destined to lurk in the back of your mind for years to come, this may not have the visceral punch of Ringu, but it's still bloody frightening.