After various iterations of The Ring, The Grudge, and One Missed Call, we may assume filmmakers have exhausted the fright potential of running water and long-haired females. Still, I’d also recommend Dark Water, a literary horror flick that sets the freaky water effects against domestic tragedy. (Note: Ring-master Hideo Nakata had a hand in Dark Water’s screenplay.)
Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly plays the mom to a little girl, both trying to survive an acrimonious divorce from husband/dad Dougray Scott. Connelly’s character falls through cracks and into a creepy (but affordable) high rise on
New York City’s Roosevelt Island.
The Brutalist monstrosity is
haunted (shocker), although Connelly worries as much about retaining custody.
(Connelly has quietly assembled a formidable sci-fi/horror resume, including The Rocketeer and Dark City, and collaborations with Dario Argento, The Hulk, and the neo-Klaatu.)
** moderate spoiler ahead **
Despite moments of dread, Dark Water is relatively muffled compared to, say, The Ring or Session 9. It seems to actually care about its characters, as opposed to something like The Grudge. Child abuse is a theme, but the worst acts occur before the movie begins: the movie is about the grip of the past, and it's profoundly sad. Both mother and daughter are achingly vulnerable, met mostly with greed and indifference, despite a sympathetic lawyer played by Tim Roth (other familiar faces: John C. Reilly, Camryn Manheim, and Pete Postlewaite).
** end spoiler **
The cliché is that most of us are “one paycheck away” from disaster. Dark Water is social horror, dramatizing the companion truth that for many women a messy break-up has the same result. Credit for this mix of fright and empathy is shared by Brazilian director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and the makers of the original Japanese film, which was based on the novel by Koji Suzuki.