Dark Water

Dark Water ★★★★

I don't understand it when people tell me they don't like horror movies. I have a friend who doesn't find them scary, and fair enough, but my older brother doesn't like them because he "doesn't see the appeal" of scaring yourself silly. Personally, I love them. There's something strangely exhilarating in sitting in a dark room, getting scared and fearing for the characters. Furthermore, there seems to be some absurd notion that they should be classified differently to other films, but when done well, and properly, they can be just as good as - if not better than - any other film. Dark Water is a superb example of that notion being utterly wrong.

Directed by Hideo Nakata - who prior to this, directed Ringu and Ring 2, and has since directed, among other little known titles, Enda Walsh's deeply flawed but decent adaptation of his own play, Chatroom - it's a ghost story about a mother fighting for custody of her 5-year-old daughter. They move into a slightly dilapidated block of flats, where they experience supernatural occurrences and discover that the water leaking through the ceiling of their new home is - naturally - coming from the flat directly above them, which just happened to have been inhabited by an abandoned little girl who inexplicably disappeared without a trace over a year before.

The first thing to say about Dark Water is that it's really scary. Really, really scary. The kind of scary where you can't help but hide behind a cushion. Nakata ratchets up the tension from the very beginning; at first very gradually, and then far more rapidly as it becomes clear what the situation is. This is such an effective way of telling the story and it works absolute wonders. He also knows how to deliver a shock or two...

But the strength of Dark Water (a somewhat dull title for a film that's so extraordinary) is not in its abundant chills or haunting atmosphere, but in its strong emotional core. The relationship between Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) and her daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno), is superbly developed - as it should be, since it becomes vitally important in the latter half of the film, in much the same way as the relationship between Christine and Regan MacNeil is incredibly important to the plot of The Exorcist. Only once does the developing of this bond feel at all forced. But at the very heart of Dark Water, you have the story of a young girl who misses her mother and wants her back, making the dramatic climax as heart-breaking as it is terrifying (I nearly cried), and therefore elevating it above other, more standard horror movies.

But, it isn't, I regret to say, a perfect film. It occasionally resorts to exposition when there really isn't any need for it, and the epilogue feels like an unnecessary add-on which again forces the mother-daughter relationship. However, most unfortunately, the cheesy song that plays over the end credits undermines virtually everything that has come before it. But I can say without hesitation that Dark Water is one of the scariest films I've ever seen; chilling, frightening, saddening, brilliant. A must-see for any horror fan.

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