Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water doesn’t reach the heights of his highly-acclaimed 1998 effort Ring, but this stylish thriller still has some adrenaline-inducing scares that get under the skin…
The year Gore Verbinski remade Hideo Nakata’s film Ring, the Japanese director had another twisty supernatural thriller up his sleeve. It would be more J-horror destined for Hollywoodisation despite lacking the killer premise of his 1998 effort as the killer videotape is replaced by a malevolent bath. No, you’re right, it doesn’t have the same unsettling allure, something that marks Nakata’s Dark Water as a less successful effort. That is despite it once again showcasing the director’s skill at orchestrating atmospheric chills and sustained, often excruciatingly intense, suspense through a confident combination of sound design, camera movement and pacing.
There are some wonderful moments in Dark Water even if the sum of its parts don’t add up to a wholly satisfying finished product. Certainly, as the malevolent force, appearing here as a disgruntled dead girl like Nakata’s previous Ring, discovers the power of its paranormal energy, there’s some fun horror movie dramatics to enjoy. The director’s subtly is one of his strengths, never overdoing his special effects and allowing the supernatural elements of the story to organically infuse themselves into sequences without a sense of artificial manufacture. The glimpse of a girl’s ghost at a doorway as an elevator descends or her shadow on a wall are good examples of Nakata’s unobtrusive method that slowly builds tension.
He’s also great at creating suspense through what is just off or behind camera (a fleeting turn of a mother’s head to reveal a reaction to something we can’t see before the reveal or a John Carpenter-like point of view shot, slowly creeping up on an innocent child). The technique creates a pleasing adrenaline rush, a little bit like the perceived threat of something over your shoulder but an inability to turn and see what is there. Nakata doesn’t always haven anything for us to see – was something really there or was it the character’s imagination? However, when he does give us something to see it’s often terrifying: the sight of a rotting girl in a yellow raincoat attacking a distraught woman in an elevator rekindled that haunting feeling I got from Donald Sutherland’s run-in with a knife-wielding maniac in Don’t Look Now.
Dark Water falls off its feet in the construction of familial drama that should complement the paranormal activity but only gets in the way. Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is fighting for sole custody of her daughter Ikuko following a messy divorce, her courage as a single mother supposedly an instigating factor behind the malevolent force attaching itself to this family. The unseen force begins to weaken her efforts to prove her competency as a mother – the strange goings-on make others question Yoshimi’s mental state – but this real life drama fails to earn the credibility of the film’s more supernatural elements. It’s perhaps most apparent when the leaking roof above Ikuko’s bed is not investigated or solved until the second act when it becomes imperative to the plot’s progression. Evidently, around Nakata’s moments of stylish scare tactics, he plumps up the narrative with unnecessary baggage, overcomplicating an otherwise simple tale of tragedy and loss.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Dark Water on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films which released the film on dual format DVD/Blu-ray October 10, 2016. It’s a wonderful presentation of the film with a crisp high definition digital transfer and new interviews with director Hideo Nakata and novelist Koji Suzuki as well as a making-of and new writing from “J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond” author David Kalat.