Dark Water (2002) — It’s not the second coming of The Ring, OK?

Kyle’s rating: I’m going to start taking shorter showers, because I don’t want to look like that!

Kyle’s review: I was disappointed by Dark Water, and yet, I really enjoyed it immensely. I think that I was expecting a mostly-by-the-numbers Japanese film that blended horror and mystery equally and effectively, similar to the original Japanese The Ring. What I got was not that, though it seemed to be headed in that direction.

Rather than a tight little thriller where the good and the bad are clearly defined, here the distinctions get a little murky. There is plenty of room for you to decide post-viewing exactly what happened and what the final status quo is. That isn’t to say that you don’t get suspense and thrills and chills and a definitive stop to the action, because you do. I’m saying that there is a ton of texture to Dark Water that I wasn’t expecting, despite having read of its intelligence and high quality in internet reviews, and that that texture requires you to really delve into the movie and think about what it’s trying to say.

Or, if you have a poor attention span, get a copy and breeze through to the last half hour, where all hell breaks loose and there are a couple really good jumps to get your heart beating overtime. I’m writing this review at midnight or so immediately after watching the film, and I’m constantly checking over my shoulder in this way-too-dark house for any signs of cute dead girls or water. Argh! It’s water! Oh, that’s just the glass I poured for myself earlier ohmigod! It’s hair! Nooooooo!

Oh, wait, I’m okay. Whew! Anyway, over in Japan, the creative types behind Ringu, director Hideo Nakata and writer Koji Suzuki, joined forces once more to make Dark Water. As such, there are definite similarities to Ringu/The Ring, which probably robs Dark Water of a teeny tiny bit of the shocks it should have. But hey: if you’re like me, and the image of a mysterious and clearly malevolent little girl standing at the end of a long dark hallway is always scary every single time, then I think you will enjoy Dark Water. And after this movie and Cabin Fever, I don’t plan to drink any water unless it’s been run through a couple filters and boiled. Supernatural viruses, anyone? None for me, thanks!

This is pretty cathartic, writing this. Sure, my heart is still quaking a little, and if I should turn this next time and see a soaked little girl standing there, um, one of you reading can have my Mutant post. Okay, nothing that time. I’m seriously freaked out. Wow. Why couldn’t I have watched it in the morning? Dang.

Dark Water is the story of youngish Japanese single mom Yoshimi Matsubara (the wonderful Hitomi Kuroki) who is trying to make a new life for herself and her daughter Ikuko (the very cute Rio Kanno) while also striving to retain custody as she fights with her ex-husband during a divorce mediation. Yoshimi isn’t the most stable lady you’ll meet, but we find out why through a few flashbacks. It is obvious that she loves Ikuko deeply and will do anything for her, including moving into a quaint but ominously dank apartment to give them a home and be close to a kindergarten for Ikuko.

But as Yoshimi tries to keep everything going, a red bag that may or may not have belonged to a missing young girl from the neighborhood keeps popping up, and things seem to get more and more complicated as a water stain starts to spread on the apartment’s ceiling, endlessly dripping even though they already told management about it. Psychic clues and some wet investigating start to put things into perspective, but just when life seems normal again something throws a (pun coming…) bucket of water and re-soaks everything all over again (pun delivery: successful!).

Telling you anymore would be heinous. If you’ve got a horror background and you’ve seen either version of The Ring, chances are you can figure some stuff out ahead of time and you’ll be sitting there going “Hmm, I liked this better the first time I saw it . .. when it was called Ringu!” NOTE TO YOU: Try saying “Ringu” at least twice a day; it’s fun! Like I said, because of the same creative team this has a definite feel just like Ringu and you will think you know what the ending is. You do not. I sure didn’t. The ending is not what you expect, and it manages to be all of the following: logical, frustrating, heartbreaking, thoughtful, tragic, and open to interpretation. By the time you get to the ending, I also guarantee you will have to go to the bathroom. All that running water, you know?

Dark Water is not a perfect viewing experience. I bought a bootleg DVD copy of it at a comic book/sci-fi show in Pasadena, so, uh, good luck finding it. Plus, it has subtitles since it’s a Japanese horror movie, so have your granny glasses on and ready to go. Not to get elitist on ya, but “modern” horror fans may not dig this film’s slow pace and intricate character development, because they’ll be itching to fast forward to bloody stuff and those stupid hey-I’m-not-looking-to-my-right-despite-having-functional-peripheral-vision-like-all-humans-OH-NO-I’m-going-to-die-oh-it’s-you-boyfriend/girlfriend scenes.

Didn’t I mention: there is no blood, at least none I remember. There is a lot of water, though (see: title). Some of plot points hinge on both human stupidity and the complete uselessness of building management, which when you consider life, does ring with plausibility. If you can handle a horror story that seems more concerned with the relationship between mothers and daughters than providing you the brute viewer with the requisite jump scenes and elaborate monster special effects, then all I am saying is give Dark Water a chance!

Yep, I’ve decided I was pretty impressed by Dark Water. Sure, it seems headed into implausibility at times (Aren’t there laws in Japan about keeping up equipment inspections? Aren’t there other people living in this apartment building? Wouldn’t someone clear out the apartment of someone who is obviously gone?) but it utterly redeems itself with excellent acting, an expert approach at controlling the flow of suspense and outright horror, and an interesting story that manages to stay coherent even when dealing with the passage of time.

Maybe I’m biased because I think almost all Japanese girls/women are really cute/hot (at least the ones I see in movies/magazines/buying clothes on Melrose) and because I think intelligent horror is just as worthy of my time and attention as splatter horror, but I found Dark Water to be effective as drama and horror. It’s a great ghost story that also throws in some ambiguity (is it really happening, or is it in this fragile mom’s head?) and has an incredible climax. Also, I’m afraid to go to sleep right now, so maybe I’ll write another review or something. Dang. Midnight ‘net poker for me, I guess. Wait, do you hear water dripping? Nooooooooo!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s