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Rated 2.93 stars
by 1857 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Home Scary Home
by Betty Jo Tucker

Home is where the heart is, and there’s no place like home. But what happens when the place that should be the safest one of all turns on you? Dark Water, a psychological thriller starring Jennifer Connelly, offers a chilling depiction of this terrifying situation.

“I have always been affected by horror stories and am a little afraid of them,” admits Oscar winner Connelly (for A Beautiful Mind). “But this story, being about a woman trying to make a new life for herself and her daughter in the middle of some very strange circumstances, was really moving to me. I was fascinated by the combination of a story that could be so frightening and yet so emotionally provocative at the same time.”       

Connelly’s haunting performance as a woman engulfed in an aura of desperation makes it impossible not to empathize with the character she portrays. She’s Dahlia Williams, a young mother recently separated from her husband (Dougray Scott). Determined to move on, Dahlia finds a new job and a dilapidated new apartment on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. Soon, because of an intense custody battle over her little girl as well as mysterious happenings in the new residence, Dahlia’s sanity is put to the test -- but she will stop at nothing to save Ceci (Ariel Gade, a darling newcomer) and to discover what’s really going on.

In Dark Water, atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere rivals location, location, location for attention. Combining constant rain outdoors with indoor water problems including a nasty leaky ceiling and a flooded upstairs apartment, the movie evokes a sense of unease that soon morphs into one of deep despair. Who doesn’t get the blues when it rains? And the downpour here never stops.

Dreary Roosevelt Island comes across as the perfect place to film screenwriter Rafael Yglesia’s fear-driven adaptation of Hideo Nakata’s popular Japanese horror flick. Watching Dahlia and Ceci take their first tram trip across the murky East River to the Island, we suspect they’re in for some bad patches ahead. When we see the huge run-down apartment buildings at their destination point, we’re sure of it. 

Director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) claims that his interest in film noir began at an early age, mostly because these movies “allowed one to see the dysfunction of society through its cracks.” Although this is his first such film, he creates just the right disturbing mood and eerie feeling for scenes in the sinister waterlogged apartment.  

“He (Salles) has an elegant way of coming at the terror of the story,” Connelly explains. Salles, with the assistance of cinematographer Affonso Beatto (The Fighting Temptations), also gives the movie a unique artistic look and, as Connelly concludes, “a lot of style, grace and mystery.”

Much of the mystery here involves whether or not certain things, including the appearance of a ghost and Ceci’s imaginary friend, are hallucinations or very real indeed. Dahlia still suffers from nightmares about her own abandonment as a child and takes medication for migraines, so she might be having a nervous breakdown. And the way her problems are neglected by her estranged husband, her surface-caring landlord (John C. Reilly in another terrific performance), the grumpy handy-man (Pete Postlethwaite) and sometimes even by her own lawyer (Tim Roth) could be pushing Dahlia over the edge. Her only true friendly new acquaintance is Ceci’s concerned teacher (Camryn Manheim).  

Despite an unsatisfactory ending, Dark Water emerges as a must-see for viewers who enjoyed such memorable ghost stories as The Sixth Sense, The Shining and The Others. It’s also a tribute to how far a mother will go to protect her child. 

The impressive DVD bonus features include several enlightening behind-the-scenes items. For example, we hear cast and crew tell why they admire director Walter Salles and vice versa. The actors seem to appreciate Salles’ collaborative directing style and his way of sharing notes with them in private little chats. We also learn how the screenwriter, editor, production designer, director of photography, sound technicians and composer worked to make the director’s vision about the movie come to life on screen. These bonus features are some of the best I’ve seen this year. Here’s the list: “Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water,” “The Sound of Terror” (an examination of the film’s subliminal soundscapes), “Analyzing Dark Water (a look at three intense sequences), deleted scenes, and a featurette on the film’s extraordinary cast and crew.


WARNING: Be sure to watch the movie first. Otherwise, you’ll be too distracted looking for various technical achievements to become fully engrossed in the film’s involving story.    


(Released by Touchstone Home Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language. Bonus materials not rated.)

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