(director: Walter Salles; screenwriters: from the novel by Kôji Suzuki/Hideo Nakata (film Honogurai mizu no soko kara)/Rafael Yglesias; cinematographer: Affonso Beato; editor: Daniel Rezende; music: Angelo Badalamenti; cast: Jennifer Connelly (Dahlia), Ariel Gade (Ceci), Tim Roth (Jeff Platzer), John C. Reilly (Mr. Murray), Pete Postlethwaite (Veeck), Dougray Scott (Kyle), Camryn Manheim (Teacher), Elina Löwensohn (Dahlia’s Mother); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Doug Davison/Roy Lee/Bill Mechanic; Touchstone Pictures; 2005)

“About as much fun as riding in a broken-down elevator.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unsuccessful attempt at making a commercial film into an arty one that lets a talented cast hang out to dry and has nothing much to say except pointing out that in today’s Manhattan real estate market forking over $900 a month for rent only gets you into a run-down building. If you didn’t know that before, this film reinforces that it takes a lot of scratch to live in Manhattan–which might not even guarantee attending a good neighborhood school for a tenant with a child.

Dark Water is a remake of Hideo Nakata’s equally tedious Japanese horror film; it’s based on the novel by Kôji Suzuki. Brazilian director Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) keeps it almost humorless as he gives it the serious high-art treatment. But there’s really nothing to get worked up about that is serious. Instead it all keeps coming back to the plumbing problems in a gloomy Roosevelt Island hi-riser that looks as scary as Riker’s Island. Whenever screenwriter Rafael Yglesias seems to run dry on ideas (which is often), we can count on a pipe bursting and dark water flowing while the disturbed lead characters begin to have faraway looks in their eyes as if they are registering on a different dimension. After most of the film runs through the whole litany of conventional scares from the horror genre of films like Rosemary’s Baby and those old haunted house films, we’re let down with an unexciting conclusion considering what horrors were hinted at.

Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) is a thirtysomething suffering from migraines who is going through a bitter divorce, needing neutral marriage mediators to keep things civil. She’s in an en-nerving verbal fight with her bullylike hubby Kyle (Dougray Scott) over custody for their 6-year-old cutie-pie Ceci. Dahlia stubbornly refuses to live near him in Jersey City and finds an apartment in Roosevelt Island, which prompts her ex to say she’s always been a nutcase. Because she can’t afford to live in the city Dahlia takes the dumpy apartment even though it doesn’t meet her expectations. She takes it even though Ceci cries out this isn’t the city, the creepy dark hallways look like a crime scene waiting to happen, the grim looking and belligerent janitor Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite) acts like your stereotypical serial killer and the management agent, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), might be low-key but he shines through as one hell of a sleazeball. As you can imagine, Dahlia made a bad decision. She finds this out the first night when she has a nasty leak in her bedroom ceiling and can’t get the janitor to fix it or Mr. Murray to make him, even though it continues to get worse. The best thing that happens to Dahlia is she gets a good lawyer, Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth), who works relentlessly and effectively for her benefit and does it on the cheap and without trying to score her. The best thing that happens to the kid is that she gets a good teacher (Camryn Manheim), who is concerned that Ceci has no real friends but is talking to an imaginary one and suggests a visit to the school psychologist. This gives rise to a manipulative ghost story, as Ceci continues at home to imagine she’s having a conversation with a little girl. Ceci, unfortunately, becomes used as merely a plot device. With the plumbing problems continuing and the discovery that the apartment above is causing the flood even though the couple and their daughter moved out, it’s further learned that perhaps rowdy teenagers in the building might be causing it at the request of her hubby.

The film covers too many bases to score any points that are meaningful. It shoots from an urban decay story to a conventional horror/ghost story to a schlocky psychological one of the hardships of getting one’s emotional footing after a fall, until it finally staggers home without much to show for all its spillage but really great performances from Connelly, Roth, Reilly and Postlethwaite. It was about as much fun as riding in a broken-down elevator.

Dark Water