Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Film Review: Dark Water (2002)

Directed by: Hideo Nakata

Starring: Hitomi Kuroki
Rio Kanne

SynopsisA mother and her 6 year old daughter move into a creepy apartment whose every surface is permeated by water

My thoughts: Hideo Nakata is a man I owe a great deal too. Ring, albeit originally through the American remake, was a milestone in developing my taste in horror fiction - moving me away from the teen slashers of Wes Craven and John Carpenter and opening me up to a much broad definition of what horror can be. Beyond being an exercise in feeding that primal need to see people go splat, an exercise which America horror seems to struggle moving past in recent years, Nakata knows how to employ subtly. He uses genuine pathos to suck you in, gives you little peeks at what's hiding under the bed and then finally he gets you by exposing you to some of the creepiest imagery every committed to cinema.

Dark Water is a solid film that Hideo Nakata should be proud to put against his name. It isn't nearly as seminal as Ring is, but it achieves a similar atmosphere, has some terrifying moments and manages to tackle some interesting themes. At its core, the film is about divorce, instability and that terrifying moment in everyone's childhood when your mum isn't there to pick you up after school. This is my favourite thing about J-horror - the supernatural is seldom an arbitrarily evil force that the protagonists most do battle with. Rather, it is a manifestation of the characters' inner fears, working first to destroy their mind before destroying the body. Edgar Allan Poe knew it, Shirley Jackson knew it and Hideo Nakata knows it. You could possibly argue that these accolades belong to Koji Suzuki who wrote both the stories that Ring and Dark Water were based off, but the difference between Nakata's rendition of Ring and Suzuki's leads me to believe that they were trying to achieve different things with the same premise (I thought Nakata's was better).

As much as I enjoyed it, I think there was a bit of fat that could have been cut off Dark Water. I find it pretty hard to believe Yoshimi was able to win her custody battle after losing her child on the late-night streets of Tokyo and having a break down and assaulting her ex-husband at a tribunal. This probably could have been tightened. The dénouement of the film probably could have been skipped altogether, seeing as it was just explicitly showing what the climax of the film eluded to. Something else I would like to see is more twists on the "vengeful spirit" archetype. It is a formula that has produced some of the best horror films of the last two decades, and I would hate to see it go stale(r).
But yeah, I recommend you see this movie. Well-paced, classic J-horror complete with nightmarish imagery. Well worth it for the bath tub scene alone.

4 out of 5 mysterious red bags.


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