Friday, July 01, 2005

Dark Water

In 2002, cult Japanese horror director Hideo Nakata released an understated yet highly effective psychological horror flick, which focussed on a recently-divorced woman fearing she’s going mad in a strange and foreboding apartment block where objects seem to move of their own accord and, from somewhere up above, water is constantly seeping. After the runaway success of Nakata’s cursed video-based Ringu a few years earlier, such a retrained take on sinister seemed to have less immediate appeal to audiences, even though it was adapted from a novel by the same author and many critics raved.

This is the American remake, a phrase which often horrifies fans of Asian horror movies far more than the contents of the films they love so much. Never mind haunted videos and ghostly, murderous beings crawling out of television sets, with remakes there is always the danger of the dreaded curse of Hollywoodisation. American studios seem to have a tendency towards simplifying and dumbing down the often very finely nuanced atmospheres of the originals in a desperate attempt to appeal to western audiences more used to the blood and guts horror of the likes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

No such danger here. Although Nakata himself is not directing, as he did with the disappointing US remake of his own sequel to Ringu, Brazilian director Walter Salles has captured the spirit of the original perfectly, and if anything used the pressures of Hollywood to his own advantage with a cast packed with people whose very presence adds to expectations of the unexpected.

If the likes of Brits Tim Roth and Pete Postelthwaite turn up in an American movie, they are usually playing someone a tad dodgy. Likewise put generally affable character actor John C Reilly in a sinister setting, his most recognisable screen persona of the put-upon everyman becomes slightly distorted, and his past roles as various good natured chaps lend the film an added air of uncertainty – he may, after all, be playing against type. Chuck in Shelley Duvall, still best known for Stanley Kubrick’s masterful horror of suspense The Shining, and Dougray Scott, who has played a fair few baddies in his time, and you’ve got the makings of a very promising film.

But his is merely the supporting cast. The film actually revolves almost entirely around the always superb Jennifer Connelly and her gradually growing unease and ever-approaching psychosis as she tries to create something approaching a regular family life amidst the darkly threatening corridors of the hulking apartment building.

But even with such a fine cast, atmosphere is everything. Thankfully Salles has enlisted the aid of some masters of the art, with cinematographer Alfonso Beato making the very best of Térèse DePrez’s grimy sets and David Lynch’s favourite composer Angelo Badalamente complementing the whole with a trademark darkness of a score. For once the Hollywoodisation has not been a bastardisation. In fact, it could even top the original. Just don’t go and see it on your own…


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