Yoshimi Matsubara fights to gain legal custody of her five year old daughter while the two live together in a dark, sullen and musty apartment building. Already insecure and uncertain about her future with her daughter, Yoshimi is haunted by a life-like, murky water dropping through the ceiling and walls, and by the almost taunting appearance of a small red bag that once belonged to a girl who...
The film that Hideo Nakata is quite likely most famous for is the chilling classic Ring (or Ringu as it seems to be known as since the US remake The Ring), and that unsurprisingly was the first film of his that I ever saw. The eerie feeling that is present throughout the film, building up to the terrifying climax left a definite mark in my mind, and also brought me to be very intrigued about his other films. A couple of years after I saw Ring, he released this film, Dark Water, and that timing just happened to coincide with the peak of my Asian DVD buying, meaning it absolutely had to be bought!
With a film as successful in all departments as Ring, all future films from Hideo Nakata had the unenviable certainty of being compared to that film. Will it be as scary? Will it be as suspense filled? Will the story be as good? Those are all questions that I found myself asking before first watching, despite trying to make myself regard the film in its own right. After viewing, either the answer to all of those questions was 'yes' or it was clear that the film was completely different that it was easy to judge on its own merit.
Dark Water follows Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), a single mother fighting to gain custody of her six-year old daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno). To gain more stability in her life with her daughter, they move to a flat in an apartment building. At first everything seems to be going fine in their life, with Yoshimi getting a new job, and Ikuko starting at a new school, but a dark, murky damp patch on the ceiling of Yoshimi's bedroom starts to become more and more imposing. What also started as a trivial discovery by Ikuko of a small red bag, with no apparent owner, starts to haunt them. With noises being heard from the apparently uninhabited flat above theirs, the stress begins to take a toll on Yoshimi, whose only priority in life is her daughter.
Where in Ring the story was the creepy element of the film, in Dark Water the story is just an ordinary story, but put into a very creepy environment. This gives the film a sense of being in real life, despite the supernatural elements to the story. Psychologically this helps increase the suspense and horror, as if you look at the film as happening in real life, then it is quite likely the thought that 'this could happen to me' would cross your mind, and that is not something any sane person would want!
The bulk of the credit for making Dark Water a very good, and genuine creepy and scary film lies with the two leading actresses, Hitomi Kuroki and Rio Kanno. As Yoshimi, Hitomi Kuroki portrays an extremely believable single mother, entirely devoted to her daughter, willing to do whatever she can to ensure that she gains the custody rights. However, as things become bleaker for her when she starts to be dealing with more things than she can handle, the anguish also looks completely real. Rio Kanno, as Ikuko, is another revelation as far as child actors and actresses go. Like few other children, she appears to have a grasp of acting well beyond her years, resulting in her portrayal of Ikuko being flawless. When required she is a happy-to-be-with-her-mother 6-year old, at other times she comes across genuinely terrified (maybe she was while filming, who knows!), but at no time does anything come across as being over-acted, unbelievable or insincere.
The rest of the credit for the film goes towards the sets and the atmosphere that is created in them. In some lighting Yoshimi's apartment looks perfectly normal, warm and homely. But under other lighting conditions it looks moody, murky, musty and basically quite creepy. Likewise with the damp patch on the ceiling, never before has something like a piece of wet ceiling had so much eerie character! With the noises and sound effects that go with the film to create the suspense all being perfectly placed and timed, the suspense cannot fail but to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The build up of suspense throughout the film is very intelligently done, giving key bits of information when suitable, and is the perfect fodder for the acting to play against.
While I undoubtedly highly enjoyed Dark Water, it is not perfect. For my liking the ending did not live up to expectations, and this is one area where I'm sure my memory of Ring is tainting my view. The ending in Ring was one of the scariest I had ever seen at that point, and I was hoping for something of that standard, or ideally even better. This ending I hoped for did not materialise. The suspense that was being built up, ended up going no where really, preferring to just disappear and give a mystery ending instead of a scary one. I wanted to be scared damn it!!
The anti-climax of the ending aside, Dark Water is an excellent film that is certain to give you the creeps at some point in its duration. I saw this film once in the cinema with a friend, and when she got back to her place she had a tap that wouldn't stop dripping! I don't think she slept to well! After watching the film the thought of dripping taps has never seemed so scary! Highly recommended, and if you can play region 3 DVDs, then this is also the version to buy - it is probably the best A/V wise, and it is also very cheap!
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