A movie like this requires emotional investment.
By ROGER MOORE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
More ghost story than horror movie, "Dark Water" is a modestly spooky tale about a mother and daughter enduring a living nightmare.
And that nightmare is living in a New York rent-controlled apartment.
The elevator has a mind of its own. The walls are dingy and the lighting terrible.
The ceiling leaks. The scummy landlord double-talks his way out of repairs, and the scary building super won't fix it.
Leaks mean water. And the water in this Roosevelt Island tower is inky black, with the odd bits of hair spurting out of the faucets. But the rent's $900 a month. Who could leave that?
"Dark Water," another "Ring"-remake of a Japanese horror film, has an ending that anybody over the age of 12 will guess 10 minutes in. It's so lacking in heartfelt frights or cheap scares that the few real hair-raising moments, in the finale, don't pay off. They just show us the movie this was meant to be, not the one director Walter Salles delivered.
Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") shoots for something like the moody but unsurprising "The Others" here, a "Shining" with Jennifer Connelly as the unstable parent and Ariel Gade as the 5-year-old whose imaginary friend is messing with her head.
Dahlia (Connelly) is a depressed Seattle native with mother abandonment issues. The film opens with a flashback of her coping with a hostile, resentful mom who can't be bothered to pick her up from school. Dahlia won't make that mistake now that she's a mom. But Dahlia is on medication, which, considering that she's moved to New York and brought Seattle's interminable rain with her, is understandable.
She's going through a divorce, and the mediation over child custody isn't going well.
"I don't know who or what pressed your wacko button today," the soon-to-be-ex (Dougray Scott) barks at her latest paranoid accusation.
But is she paranoid? That's the question the movie is built around, or should be.
Finances force Dahlia and Ceci, her little girl, to move to rent-controlled Roosevelt Island, a complex of buildings that the East Germans would have been proud to call home. The rain, the ceiling leaking from the mysterious empty apartment upstairs, the stress of the divorce and Ceci's discovery of a spectral imaginary friend make Dahlia question her sanity even as her little family is under attack from supernatural forces.
That's the way this is supposed to go.
But the easily-guessed resolution to the "mystery" (Salles foreshadows us to death) isn't buttressed by a compelling performance by Connelly. She's made her post-Oscar career a series of victims, and she plays them at the same pitch, with the same exhausted depression and mannered gestures. She averts her eyes in conversation. That's it. It's a shockingly limited turn for somebody recognized for pulling out a few more stops in "A Beautiful Mind."
But the film does play, as they say, as a dark comedy of New York apartment dwelling. John C. Reilly is one deliciously dishonest landlord. Pete Postlethwait tries a weirder than weird accent on as the too-creepy super. Tim Roth is nicely off-putting as Dahlia's lawyer, a guy who fibs about "family" and his office being painted (he does all his business from his Jeep Grand Cherokee).
The gimmick here is that everybody seems to be lying; the husband, the landlord, all of them. Or are they? Is Dahlia's paranoia clinical, or is the world really out to get her?
Salles fails to draw Connelly out of the funk she plays this part in, and without more overt emotion, there's little reason to invest in the characters or the movie. Without that investment, "Dark Water" sinks like a stone.