Plot – A mother and her 6-year-old daughter move into a creepy apartment whose every surface is permeated by water- Dark Water
Director – Hideo Makata
Released – 2002
After the release of the influential and commercially successful The Ring in the late ’90s, a fresh wave of Asian horror cinema was introduced to worldwide audiences fascinated by this new stylised and scary approach to horror influenced by Asian culture and mythology. With this, directors from countries such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand showed us there isn’t one approach to horror, reinventing tired conventions at the same time.
Films like Audition and Shutter received solid responses, and some like Pulse and The Grudge received big-budget Hollywood adaptations. Of course, not every recent Asian horror movie was a hit. Dark Water is one such film. One that sadly flew just under the radar despite being an enjoyable and thought-provoking story filled with haunting imagery and scary moments.
Based on a nuanced short story by Koji Suzuki (of Ringu fame), Dark Water may not have the most original of plots, focusing Yoshimi Matsubara (Kuroki), a woman who hopes for a fresh start in a new flat while fighting for custody of her young daughter Ikuko (Kanno), only to be plagued by a strange series of mysterious events that link to the apartment building’s dark past. But the combination of Hideo Nakata’s writing and direction produced a unique and interesting look at the breakdown of the family unit and a mother’s duty towards her children.
It’s clear to see that he learnt from his time working on the Ringu series, giving each character a complex level of development not normally seen in a genre film. Especially with Yoshimi, a character you can’t help but empathise and worry about, with this emotional bond heightening the film-watching experience and giving it a truly heartbreaking finale.
But all the credit can’t go to the writers, Hitomi Kuroki delivers a virtuoso performance that fully showcases this character’s anguish and desperation. With the same to be said about the young Rio Kanno as Yoshimi’s daughter Ikuko and considering her young age, her performance is quite remarkable, while the chemistry the two share makes their mother-daughter relationship even more believable.
Nakata’s film-making style in Dark Water also feels more introspective than his previous work. Crafting eerie atmospheres through excellent use of unconventional haunted locations. Turning a rundown concrete apartment building into a prison-like location that emits an overwhelming and unbearable sense of dread and hopelessness, mirroring the feelings that Yoshimi is experiencing at the thought of losing her daughter and being helpless to stop it.
And as this uneasy feeling increases, the sense of invertibility that history is about to repeat itself and reminded me of the classic’s of Gothic horror of old such The Innocents and The House on the Haunted Hill. With the movie’s slow pace, another throwback to the golden era of horror, where suspense and mystery rather than repeated jump-scares were key to crafting a story that kept you hooked until the very last minutes.
Overall, Dark Water is an entertaining horror film that blurs the line between old ghost tales and new horror techniques and while it’s true that the basic premise lacks the originality that other Asian horror movies of the time introduced to the Western world, its emotional storytelling and haunting atmosphere really gives this film a fresh look.