Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 10, 2006
      ( 6/10/2006 11:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

IT'S IN THE WATER – Don't know why, but for some reason the "unrated" version of the Americanized Dark Water remake is two minutes shorter than the PG-13 version that Touchstone Pictures released to the theatres. Watching this version on Starz last night, I'm hard-pressed to see what justifies the unrated classification (unless it's the simple fact that this version was just never submitted for rating); there are no over-the-top fx or explicit sexual moments. Rather, the movie primarily strives to attain a more subtly unsettling tone.

Based on a short novel by Ring author Koji Suzuki (which was also adapted and included in a manga collection that was released in America by Dark Horse to capitalize on the movie), Water concerns Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly, looking suitably marginalized), a newly divorced New York mother who is still in the midst of a custody battle with her bitter ex over daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). In part to put some drive time between her and her ex, she moves into an apartment building on Roosevelt Island, but as soon as we see the place, we've gotta wonder what the woman is thinking. The building, which we're shown in a comic walk-through led by John C. Reilly, is a pit, while Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), the super, looks threateningly surly. But Dahlia takes the place, of course: it's a given in haunted house stories (think Jack Torrence in The Shining or Eleanor Lance in The Haunting) that the most precariously stable characters are drawn to such sites.

And Dahlia, we quickly learn, has plenty of problems of her own. The product of an abusive, alcoholic home, she herself is subject to migraines and (perhaps – we're not quite sure since her not-unbiased ex tells us this) fits of paranoia. Not the ideal state of mind to be in when you've just moved into a building haunted by the ghost of a young girl who herself died as the result of parental neglect. As in The Ring, the details of this supernatural visitation revolve around water: the apartment just above Dahlia's is repeatedly flooded with brackish water, a growing leak in the ceiling looks freakishly moldy, a spigot in the basement laundry room sputters and sprays out more of this yucky black liquid. We know where all this will lead since director Walter Salles keeps obsessively circling around it whenever he zooms in the building: to an large wooden water tank on the roof.

Director Salles and screen adapter Rafael Yglesius are more interested in giving us a moody character study than they are a full-throttle fright film, though whoever told them this had to be an either/or proposition was giving 'em bad advise. (I'd recommend repeated forced viewings of Roman Polanski's Repulsion as an example of how this kind of exercise can be properly done. Or Alejandro Amenábar's fairly recent The Others with Nicole Kidman.) It's all well acted, of course – I was especially enamored with Tim Roth's appealingly ambiguous lawyer – but the apparitional specifics quickly become repetitive and largely unmoving. Too, the moviemakers make a mish-mash of the ending with a final "three weeks later" epilog that tries to add an extra layer on top of everything we've seen but just seems misapplied. (If the manga is anything to go by, it was not a part of the original story.) In something as delicate as a movie ghost story, sometimes you've just gotta know when to stop. Perhaps the unrated version would've been better eight minutes shorter?
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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