Just 50 years ago, Japan’s chief horror export was a giant fire-breathing lizard who smashed through cities and destroyed everything in his path. Now what we get is damp waif-ghosts who crawl around and harass new homeowners. No wonder Japan’s status as a world superpower has diminished in recent years.
“Dark Water” is the latest in this trend, a remake of a film by Hideo Nakata, who also made the Japanese “Ringu” films. “The Ring” more or less kicked off the cycle for Americans, followed by “The Grudge” and now leading to “Dark Water,” in which, yet again, a child’s ghost leads an unsuspecting woman to a shocking discovery.
That a child’s ghost is involved is, technically, a spoiler, since the movie doesn’t explicitly reveal that until well into things. But come on. You move into a flat where there’s always water dripping from the unoccupied apartment upstairs, where you constantly hear the pitter-patter of young feet above you, where there’s a Hello Kitty backpack on the roof even though no children live in the building, where the elevator often goes unbidden to the 10th floor — what else could it be but a ghost?
Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) doesn’t figure it out right away; I guess she hasn’t seen “The Ring” or “The Grudge.” In the midst of a messy divorce, she moves with her little girl Ceci (Ariel Gade) into a dank, soggy apartment in a giant Eastern European-looking tenement on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. She was lied to about the apartment’s amenities by the landlord (John C. Reilly, very amusing as an overly personable slumlord), but even he is surprised when the opaque liquid of the title begins seeping through the ceiling. The maintenance man, Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), claims he’s no plumber and can’t fix it. He’s kind of a jerk anyway, and has a foreign accent, so you know he’s trouble.
Soon weird things are happening, and we learn that Dahlia — who has a mild case of the crazies — suffers from Mommy issues and hence may be especially receptive to contact by a neglected specter. Or, you know, maybe it’s just her estranged husband (Dougray Scott) causing trouble, trying to make her think she’s crazier than she is.
It all comes out in the end, in a finale that is, at last, somewhat frightening and suspenseful but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. What precedes it (directed by Walter Salles, recently of “The Motorcycle Diaries”) is only marginally creepy, your standard mix of bad dreams, whispery supernatural voices and red herrings. (Why is Dahlia’s lawyer so eager to please and so full of lies? We’ll never know.) The whole thing is rather unsatisfying, I’m sorry to say, big on atmosphere but small on actual fright or dread.
C+ (1 hr., 45 min.; )