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Dark Water

There have been many adaptations of Japanese horror films of late, and their continued success only seems to encourage studios to continue with the trend of buying up the US distribution rights of the original films, shelving them, and remaking them with an “American spin” to better suit US audiences.

Wes Craven had been circling a remake of one of my favorite Japanese horror films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo, for some time now, and when it was finally canned there were sighs of relief echoing throughout the halls of Fanboy Planet -- though that may be unrelated.

Those cries of joy have turned into whimpers of pain, as it appears that the US remake is in production yet again, and filming as we speak, under the new title Pulse with Jim Sonzero at the helm.

Let’s digress from this digression. Dark Water, the latest entry into the “remake genre” originated with Hideo Nakata, whose film Ringu kicked off the recent trend when its US incarnation, the Gore Verbinski helmed The Ring, broke the box office wide open. Studio executives sat up and took note of its success and immediately began green lighting other Japanese horror films.

To sit and compare this current adaptation to the original film, Honogurai mizu no soko kara, would be futile. These remakes always take liberty with the source material, bending it and shaping it to better suit what will hopefully equate to box office gold. However, it’s strangely ironic that Dark Water originated with Hideo Nakata, because unlike Verbinski’s stylistic adaptation of The Ring, Walter Salles’ adaptation of Nakata’s film seems to hold truer to the basic thematic elements of Japanese horror than any of its predecessors.

For that very reason, this film will polarize audiences, and ultimately be dismissed.

It is true that Japanese horror films have contained some of the creepiest imagery of late, and their horror/thriller elements have somewhat rejuvenated American horror, which was quickly becoming stifled by relentless parody. However, creepy scenes, believe it or not, do not make a quality horror film. There has to be something more going on behind all of the eeriness and bloodshed, and Salles captures this perfectly.

The real conflict in Japanese horror films always seems to coincide with supernatural events. These supernatural events are no coincidence, mind you, as they are intended to be viewed as extended metaphor, playing of the strife and complications occurring between the characters within the film.

With Dark Water we are introduced to Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly), a woman whom has suffered a significant amount of trauma throughout her childhood, namely child abandonment in the realm of physical and mental abuse. Dahlia’s past is directly tied to her future, as she is in the midst of a nasty divorce with her husband, Kyle (Dougray Scott), and caught the middle of the feud is their daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade). Both Dahlia and Kyle are working to establish a joint custody scenario for Ceci, but their differences of opinion deter this from happening at every turn.

The interesting development here is that we know that both Dahlia and Kyle are separating for their own individual reasons, but whether or not each individual reason is the proverbial “right” reason is left unknown. Like many divorces, each party feels justified in their actions, and each party feels wronged by the other party. It’s only natural, and the film reflects this development perfectly. When Kyle accuses Dahlia of being crazy, we can see evidence of his accusation, although we still side with her. When Kyle is accused of being a cheater, his response seems quelled as if there may be some truth to this, although this is never really stated for fact.

This blurred line keeps the focus on the present, not the past. Well, for the audience at least. Dahlia’s fixation with her past continually pulls her further and further into darkness. On the exterior, she appears to be losing grip of reality and behaving erratically, both signs pointing to Kyle’s original assessment.

Dahlia’s decision to put her daughter first in her life is admirable, as we have all taken experiences from our past and sworn to “right these wrongs” with our own actions through adulthood. Relocating to Roosevelt Island, Dahlia is able to find an affordable apartment that suits both her and Ceci in the barest of necessities, and at the same time serves as convenience, as it is only two blocks away from one of the best schools in Ceci’s age bracket.

Connelly plays wounded like a pro, and no one would doubt her convictions here. As elements of the supernatural begin to manifest, we are presented with reasoning for their dismissal that not only suits the environments, but also refrains from insulting viewers’ intelligence. The haunting of Dahlia and Ceci’s apartment will feel reminiscent of other films in this genre, which will likely turn many away from the film initially. Yet it’s the manner in which these aspects reflect the larger canvas that makes the film work so well.


Mario Anima

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