Jennifer Connelly, Ariel Gade, John C.Reilly
With a media campaign continually reminding us that “Dark Water” is “from the author of ‘The Ring’” similarities are expected. But aside from the haunting of a young girl’s ghost, the films are quite different. Unfortunately, only one can be considered a winner on the scare factor.
While fighting a custody battle with her estranged husband, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) are forced to find low cost housing. At first, when a landlord (John C. Reilly) shows her an apartment in a rundown wreck of a building, Ceci forcefully tells her mother she doesn’t want to live there. But after Ceci has taken a walk to the roof of the building, alone, she mysteriously changes her tune and pleads with her mother to take the apartment. Why the mother gives in so easily is just one of many mysteries—not in the film, but behind its making.
Soon, Ceci finds a (not really) imaginary friend named Natasha, and mom investigates the cause of their leaky ceiling and the noises from the supposedly empty apartment upstairs. But when Ceci spends the weekend with her father, her mother spends time with Natasha. Or does she? The “lost weekend” is another of the film’s confusing moments where flashing images and creepy music are not enough to pull us into the eventual climax, if that’s what it can be called.
Connelly is good as the distraught mother who believes she may be losing her mind, just as her own mother had. But Reilly is wonderful as the evasive, and persuasive, landlord. Just as he did in films like “The Aviator”, “Chicago”, and “Anger Management” Reilly can turn the simplest role into a movie highlight. As Paul Giamatti did with “Sideways” and “American Splendor”, Reilly seems poised to make a major move up from character actor status.
And Gade gives a startling performance as the young Ceci. There’s always a fine line between over acting and not being able to cut it for child actors. But Gade walks that line with the conviction of an older, veteran actress.
However, stellar performances (and wasted ones such as Tim Roth as the mother’s lawyer) cannot save shoddy editing, erratic storytelling, and a weak ending. Brazilian director Walter Salles received critical acclaim for last year’s “The Motorcycle Diaries”. But the plaudits cannot extend to this, his first English speaking film. Whereas “The Ring” shined in its originality and its ability to lead us to each scarier moment, Salles forces spooky moments on us, trusting that they will stick. But today’s movie audience expects more than to fall for the murkiness of “Dark Water”.
Reviewer : Tim Basham