Monday, 2 May 2011


“For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true.” - Titus Lucretius Carus

At the weekend we watched an interesting film, which although was touted as a “horror” film, is more of a psychological thriller and a drama with a supernatural twist. There are no over-the-top blood-curdling scenes, no high-pitched string soundtrack, no blood-stained knives, or violence, but rather a constant on-edge feeling that builds up to a good, satisfying climax. The film is Walter Salles’ 2005 “Dark Water”, which is based on a Japanese novel by Kôji Suzuki and a film by Hideo Nakata “Honogurai mizu no soko kara”, who also created the “Ringu” film.

Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) and her young daughter Cecelia (Ariel Gade) move into a rundown (but affordable) apartment on New York’s Roosevelt Island. Dahlia is currently in midst of a custody battle for Cecelia and messy divorce proceedings, as well as having to deal with constant migraines and unresolved issues from her childhood.  The apartment comes on the recommendation of a sleazy agent (played excellently by John C. Reilly) and has a creepy janitor (great character actor Pete Postlethwaite). From the time the mother and daughter arrive, there are mysterious events, strange noises from the apartment upstairs, whispers and visions. To add to the discomfort, there is a constant drip of dark water from the ceiling in her daughter’s bedroom. Water plays an important role in the movie, not only as it drips from the ceiling, but also the seemingly constant rain that falls from leaden skies, knee-deep water in the apartment above Dahlia’s and a roof water reservoir that looks forbidding and menacing.

Tim Roth does a good job of playing Dahlia’s unconventional lawyer and Dougray Scott is convincing as her estranged husband. The acting honours go to Connelly and Gade, who seem to have a great chemistry, being very convincing as the troubled mother and daughter. Connely gives an acting recital and what could have been a role that could be hammed up considerably, is played with restraint and great aplomb. Her difficulty in coping with her life is conveyed with conviction and half of the success of the film is due to Connelly’s ability to transfer her uneasiness, anxiety and distress to the viewer.

Salles directs the movie with great skill and he manages to get the most out of every scene and out of each actor. There is great atmosphere, well-planned lighting and good scene-setting. The viewer is immersed into the troubled, tense agitation of Dahlia and her daughter, with a build-up that raises the viewer’s apprehension and disquiet until the ultimate scenes when Dahlia finally realises what need be done to save the situation.

The jacket of the DVD has a lot of irrelevant marketing hype about this being a “horror” movie, but it is in fact a human drama, with even the supernatural element being almost an afterthought. Instead of ghosts, one could view the supernatural elements as products of Dahlia’s troubled mind. It is not your regular ghost story. Dahlia’s attempt to cope with her own past and attempts to resolve the conflict in her relationship with her neglectful mother is a strong driving force in the movie. It also explains Dahlia’s actions and her immense love for her own daughter, which ultimately determines her actions and the course that she takes in the end.

It is an intelligent, dark and tense psychological thriller, which creates an apprehensive, uncomfortable atmosphere from the beginning. It is tragic and sad, especially in its ending, but is characterised by good acting, good direction, but perhaps could have benefitted from a stronger script. The removal of the supernatural element in favour of a psychological explanation for Dahlia’s actions could have allowed the film to be marketed more as a drama rather than as the misguided move to market it as a “horror” movie. Good one to watch!


  1. I don't know why they do it. If I read "horror" I will never watch it and now you made me see that maybe I lost some good movies just because of the wrong mark.
    Thanks for sharing. It seems to be a good movie.

  2. I have watched this movie, Nicholas, and I agree with you about it being a tense psychological drama. The supernatural element did not bother me too much, as one can imagine that perhaps it all was in their mind and a product of their disturbed mental state.

  3. Thanks for the review, I'll put it on my flix list!!!!!

  4. Good post, Nic ...

    ... we've only seen the Japanese original film, 'Dark Water', which I highly recommend ...

    ... and I particularly like Jennifer Connelly ...