Ironic, given its damp theme, but the most immediate problem with Dark Water is that it’s seriously overcast, with even minor characters played by starry faces. Result? What should have been a sleek, low-key story morphs into some kind of Altman-esque ensemble – with additional dead children.
Jennifer Connelly (terrific, as always) is the newly single parent, Dougray Scott (so-so) her unfaithful ex. Tim Roth (ace, in a pointless role) is her lawyer, Pete Postlethwaite (whose ludicrous accent suggests he’s turned up for Van Helsing 2) is the janitor of the grubby tenement block that houses the ghost of a young girl... Their group casting is both unnecessary and unbalancing – this is, after all, a story of spooky isolation, not human interaction. Ultimately, it gets to the point where, when the plumber eventually turns up, you half expect Harrison Ford to mosey on in with a wrench and bucket.
More fundamentally, Dark Water:The Remake just isn’t a horror movie any more. Hideo Nakata’s 2002 original was a terrifying ghost story drenched in foreboding, an array of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rain-mac scares favourably recalling Don’t Look Now. Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), on the other hand, has delivered a thoughtful tale of family dysfunction that just so happens to have some jumps in it. All very admirable, but it can hardly have been what the suits were expecting given the recent straight-laced, box-office friendly reworkings of Nakata and his Eastern peers. If you go expecting a Ring or a Grudge you’re in for a major shock. Just the one, mind.
Go prepared, however, and there are treats to be found. Mimicking the original, Salles shoots in a bleached, stark light that suits the material, while the mother’s steady emotional breakdown – hinted at in the Nakata version, beefed up here – is handled with control. Is what we are seeing really supernatural? Or is it the product of an increasingly paranoid mind?
Sadly, it turns out that it’s all a bit of a lame Columbo mystery that, when solved, is pretty unsatisfying. The cause of all the spookiness remains consistent with the original, but where that had an exhilarating, creepy rooftop reveal, Salles’ take is hurriedly ineffective. Bar a cracking aerial shot of Connelly, that is.
In a month where certain unlikely choices have paid off so handsomely (see Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins), Dark Water is a noble failure; its director and leading lady clearly preoccupied with a more emotional gameplan than suits the slender material. On paper, their Oscar pedigree and storytelling smarts must have seemed a dream. In reality, it’s not nearly nightmarish enough.
Watch the trailer
Finely acted, thoughtful and layered, this works as a telling exploration of mother/daughter relations - but, crucially, not as a scary movie.