If you see Dark Water expecting a fright show, you may be disappointed. True, the film is a remake of a Japanese thriller directed by Hideo Nakata, and it is based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, both of whom were responsible for Ringu, the horror film that was remade in English as The Ring. And true, the film is about a ghost that haunts an apartment building and tends to express itself in dark puddles and splotchy stains on the ceiling. But the original film was more of a brooding psychological drama than a horror movie, per se, and the remake—directed by Brazilian auteur Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) from a script by Rafael Yglesias (Fearless)—stays true to that vision.
The film begins in Seattle over 30 years ago. Young Dahlia (Perla Haney-Jardine) is standing outside her school, waiting for her mother (Hal Hartley veteran Elina Löwensohn) to come pick her up, long after all the other children have gone home; and when her mother does arrive, you can tell that she resents her child and regards her as a burden, at best. The film then jumps ahead to present-day New York. The grown-up Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) is in the middle of a messy divorce from her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott), and she is looking for a place to live with their five-year-old daughter Cecilia (Ariel Gade), or "Ceci".
One of the cheaper buildings she checks out is an old and somewhat run-down apartment complex on Roosevelt Island that happens to be only two blocks away from one of the best schools in the city. Ceci doesn't like the dingy look of the place at first—when Dahlia optimistically compares the neighborhood's dense, claustrophobic architecture to a small town, Ceci demurs, "I like the big city better"—but ...1
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