I figured I should follow up Hideo Nakata’s Ring with what is perhaps his second most well-known film: Dark Water. Or as it was called in Japan, Honogurai Mizu no soko kara (“From the Bottom of Dark Water”). This was based on a short story called Floating Water by Koji Suzuki, who also wrote the book for Ring. An American remake for Dark Water would show up a few years later in 2005.
“Well, a little rain never hurt anybody.”
“Yeah, but a lot can kill you!”
What better way to start a horror movie review than with a Jumanji quote? At any rate, the haunting threat and imagery takes the form of water, but as you might expect it’s not so much the water itself that is the true danger. We’ve got a ghost here.
Dark Water isn’t a particularly scary film. Instead of labeling it as a horror film, I feel it’s actually much more a drama–one that just happens to take place at a creepy old run-down apartment. This is a film about a mother and her daughter, and it is that relationship that forms the heart of the underlying ghost story. Our protagonist is a single mother (Yoshimi) struggling with a move, getting a new job, and going through divorce proceedings–and of course, raising her kindergarten daughter, who keeps running off to the creepier parts of the apartment complex. Incidents from her past, largely formed by her own parents’ divorce and her troubles with her mother specifically, give Yoshimi a lot of mental baggage to carry throughout all this.
The water and the story of the ghost–a kindergarten girl abandoned by her mother–are all clearly intended to serve as a metaphor of all that Yoshimi is going through. The pacing, camerawork, audio, and acting all come together quite well in this, making it very easy to empathize with the protagonist. She has her shortcomings and moments of weakness, but given all the weird things that start happening on top of the giant pile of real-world stresses, it’s understandable. The psychological aspect of the story feels grounded and easy to connect with as a result.
There are more than a few things in Dark Water that are very reminiscent of Ring. Divorced parents, water, claustrophobic spaces, a child in danger, etc. Because of this, it’s hard not to compare the two–and indeed, I felt Ring had a lot more… oomph. Dark Water is a solid film, but it doesn’t have any particular scenes I would call iconic–and there isn’t much in the way of surprises, as the conclusion that the film slowly builds up to is pretty easy to see coming. And as alluded to before, I don’t feel there is much that is scary here. That said, what Dark Water does manage to achieve is telling a sad story. And damn, is it a sad story. If you’re in the mood for something closer to a sad drama than a scary horror to watch this October, this is definitely the film to watch.