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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Dark Water  


Dark Water

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Japanese Title: Honogurai mizu no soko kara
Director: Nakata Hideo
Writing Credits: Suzuki Koji
Cast: Kuroki Hitomi, Kanno Rio, Mizukawa Asami, Oguchi Mirei, Kohinata Fumiyo
Genre: Horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 101 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)

Dark Water (Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara) is the second pairing between famed Japanese horror director Hideo Nakata and novelist Suzuki Koji, the duo behind the critically acclaimed chillfest, The Ring, which is credited for reviving the Asian horror film genre. Unfortunately, not many films that followed in The Ring’s footsteps were good, and even Nakata himself has not struck gold following his first film. Dark Water is no different – although it is reasonably creepy at times, there isn’t a sense of true, unsettling horror in Dark Water, and coupled with the Curse of Long-Running Asian Films, the movie really isn’t anything to hoot about.

Recently divorced, Yoshimi Matsubara (Kuroki Hitomi) has just moved into a new apartment with her six-year-old daughter Ikuko (Kanno Rio). Everything seems peachy keen at first – until water starts to drip from the ceiling. At first the dripping water is a mild annoyance, but it soon becomes apparent that a supernatural force is behind the seemingly innocent leaks. The mother and daughter start to catch glimpses of a mysterious little girl, dressed in a yellow raincoat and carrying a red bag. As the dripping water increases in intensity, and other paranormal occurrences start to manifest themselves, Yoshimi decides to investigate the matter, and finds that the apartment above them used to be the home of a little girl that went missing two years ago. Is the missing girl the same as the girl they had been seeing? As Yoshimi comes closer to the truth, she discovers that the apparition may be more malevolent than it looks.

The plot of Dark Water is a basic haunted house story, and one of the biggest flaws of the film is that it never strives to innovate. Everything in the film has been seen or done before, and feels like a rehash of old-school horror films (think Poltergeist). Good horror depends very much on catching the audience unawares, but the plot of Dark Water follows such a straight and narrow path that it is never unpredictable, and thus never really scary. Although the atmosphere in the film is suitably creepy, aided by good production values – dark cinematography, an ominous soundtrack, and claustrophobic camera angles, the gradual building-up of suspense almost always leads to a disappointing climax (or in many cases, an anticlimax). Dark Water depends more on "boo" moments for its scares, and despite the use of everyday items for horrific effect like The Ring, the level of horror is far inferior.

The movie also makes the mistake of leaving nothing to the imagination – when the perpetrator of the paranormal activity is revealed, Nakata shows the audience the "full monty" – and since no amount of special effects can ever replace the imagination, the scariness of the ghost is immediately brought down a few notches further. Although the plot borders on the incoherent, further marred by a poor attempt to incorporate a social message (Don’t let your child wait for you in school too long when lessons end!), the "Ten years later" epilogue takes the crown in incoherence. There is absolutely no need for this entire sequence to exist, and it feels like a desperate attempt to stretch the running time to beyond two hours. It’s quite a waste actually, as the two actresses in the film are actually quite good, especially Kanno Rio, who puts forth a very convincing performance despite her young age.

With Dark Water, it is rapidly becoming apparent that the Asian horror genre is becoming stagnant, and if no innovation is to be found in the next few movies, the genre is bound to die a natural death in the near future. However, at the rate it’s going, I am not going to be missing these movies much.

Final Word: Nothing you haven’t seen before, and not even a very scary movie to boot.