It’s goes without saying the horror director Hideo Nakata had already set himself up on a lofty pedestal with his 1998 release of the now infamous ‘Ringu’, so much, that when the film ‘Honogurai mizu no soko kara’ (Dark Water to our tongues) was even announced there was so much hype surrounding it I’m not sure it was ever going to live up to it; indeed I would like to see any horror stand toe to toe with Ringu and come out on top in terms of originality and downright terror. So, rather than confront his self-created monster of a movie head on it would appear that with ‘Dark Water’ he takes a slightly different tact to win over perhaps a slightly more tempered mainstream audience?
The result, a very slow burn of a film, thick with emotion and grief, and a threat which, whilst not as visually terror inducing of that of previous works, is persistent non the less.
Dark Water caused a splash upon its original release through Tartan Video, the then go-to brand for all things Asian Horror, and with Arrow’s Blu-ray make over it was an interesting revisit to a film which I remembered fondly from a time of otherwise horror drought.
The story follows a struggling single mother and her daughter as they move into an apartment block which is permeated with rotten water walls and floors within which the spirit of a young girl resides. What it wants? Well that is undermined for most of the film, although it does take a fancy to the young girl. How to get rid of it? Well that is pretty much the third act reveal of every Asian horror going! – and there aren’t going to be any spoilers here.
The plot sets a depressive tone to begin with scenes of a harassed mother, locked in a custody battle with a manipulative husband. Her own psychological stability is brought into question, and in some of the earlier creepy sequences you are left thinking about whether or not she perhaps is. The daughter, a sweet looking pre-schooler is developed just as well, with her insecurities and sadness just eeking through in contrast to the scenes where she is overly chirpy for the sake of her mother’s happiness. Aside from one other character, every other shows the rotten side of humanity looking to exploit the desperate plight of the mother for their own ends. Even before the paranormal events the poor family must endure a disingenuous realtor, the world’s most useless apartment block handyman and of course members of the legal system looking for the ‘big win’ regardless of the cost to the losers. This is a theme which persists right through to the end of the film – no one can catch a break!
This is good for us of course, because the tone and the atmosphere it generates is perfect to carry the movie into scary territory towards the end of the film.
In my opening remarks I stated that this is a slow burn, and indeed, from the first half and hour you might think you are watching something more akin to a drama than the latest terror inducing horror. From many aspects this movie never really develops into that, and from this perspective you are either going to agree with my overall score, or take umbrage that I have 3.5 starred your favourite horror! – that said, there are some definite spooky scenes!
The threat through the movie comes in two guises – a rotten looking ghost girl wearing a yellow raincoat and the ominous patches of mouldy water which permeates through ceilings and floors; I will give you a moment to consider which is the more terror inducing! Indeed there are some great scenes later in the film which will definitely give you that tingly feeling with the best being a scene in a lift which I can image most people who watched the film on original release will remember with sphincter clenching fondness. I would regard Nakata as being a particular advocate of traditional creepy horror rather than embracing the jump-scare culture which is typical of western movies. Both have their place, although I would say that whilst jump-scares deliver in the moment, it is those persisting sequences of dread which should be considered the most creative, and indeed memorable. ‘Dark Water’ doesn’t buck this trend, but ultimately what perhaps hampers its effectiveness are its themes – mould is simply not scary. No matter how slow the camera pans, or how haunting the score is, I just couldn’t get into that sort of mood from a stain on the ceiling. Perhaps it’s because the drama is done so well that the chills are eclipsed by the psychological trauma caused by seeing a mother almost losing her child, either way, I would describe 80% of this films content as creepy rather than scary.
That said, the ghost does deliver when it is given screen time. I think after a while there have been so many effective movies that even a glimpse of an Asian ghost in any form sets your nerves on edge. There are some excellent scare sequences scattered throughout the film, and from some respects they out-do the finale which merges into a fairly inconclusive ending to the tale and some rather odd (and blatant) CGI effects. It delivers, but not in either quantity with the intensity of its predecessor.
Overall, ‘Dark Water’ has been released at a good time, and it was great to revisit a horror that more than holds its own, even against modern powerhouse releases. It has a great story, and for fans of the more ‘real-life’ Asian horror stories (Tale of two sisters, Pulse, Acacia to name a few) ‘Dark Water’ emerges triumphant; just misses the scares of its contemporise.