Dark Water 仄暗い水の底から (2002)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

DARK WATER 仄暗い水の底から (2002) - Hideo Nakata

Child abandonment is the act of giving up interests and claims over one's child with the intention of never returning to them, caused by a frequent occurrence of social and cultural factors, and in cinematic drama, mental illness. What if the soul of an abandoned child comes back to haunt you? Should the soul be feared? Or pitied? Director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata touches on the souls of abandoned children with his secondary most popular horror film Dark Water, later remade three years later by Hollywood.

Dark Water follows Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), who is in the midst of a divorce, and is struggling on her relationship with her daughter Ikuko. They move together to a run-down apartment, whose ceiling has a leak that worsens on a daily basis. As the atmosphere turns more and more eerie, Yoshimi and her daughter begin encountering a creepy girl in yellow who appears tie in to their story and seems to be communicating to them.

The first step Nakata took as a director was to lead the story with a character so simple that we can relate to instantly. The protagonist is not a detective, not a journalist, not a celebrity. This is a struggling mother who is trying to bond with her daughter and spend more time with her. Yoshimi has little money to afford the apartment. She has to constantly go for job interviews. She has to see her divorce lawyer to fend off her crude husband. And if that is not enough, she enrolls her daughter in a nearby kindergarten school and needs to pick her up every day. By using the "plain folks" technique, Nakata does not have us step up to the characters' level. Instead, he has the characters take a step down to our level. With well-written dialogue, screen chemistry, and a magnetic lead performance, Dark Water captures the audience with characterization immediately, even if the film takes a little too much time building its first act. In this film's case, it helps a lot, for the main storyline requires strong characterization.

The second step Nakata took was to immerse us into the world of Dark Water. Halfway into the movie, you will have the entire apartment building's blueprint clear in your mind. You will know what the hallways look like, what the elevator looks like, how the stairs are aligned. As the film progresses, one will slowly find him/herself breathing the apartment's air, and it is a simple enhancement that increases the eeriness in the atmosphere as the film slowly descends into darkness.

As spooky as it might be, Dark Water is not too scary of a movie. Its purpose is separate from Nakata's previous film Ringu or other classics like Ju-On: The Grudge -- to scare the living daylights out of the audience. With more convincing characters, Dark Water is meant to just show us something dark and disturbing, never meant to get under our skin.

In terms of film genre, Dark Water is more of a drama than a horror film. It is a sad drama that strives with a compelling cast of characters and deals with the subject of children abandoned and lost by their parents. I was not scared, but scarred -- scarred and disturbed by the tragedy of the film's story, especially at the film's ending, the most emotionally powerful conclusion Director Nakata can pull off for a film like Dark Water. The movie steps on the fine line between fear and pity, as mentioned before, and this approach is very unique for Nakata. Hardcore asian horror fans might not like this one, but view Dark Water as just a movie, not a plain horror flick.

In conclusion, Dark Water is one of the greatest asian horror films I have seen. It may start out a little slow and its scares might be a bit murky, but the movie efficiently builds its narrative and immerses us into the living space of its characters, helping us to understand them more. Just below the surface of terror, Dark Water bears a pool of themes on humanity -- addressing subjects like mental breakdown, family breakdown, mental illness, and of course, child abandonment. It is not just a unique film in Nakata's career, but a unique film in the Japanese horror genre, putting it on the shelf of memorable films to watch.


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