Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dark Water


   Returning to my J-Horror binge, I decided to pop in Dark Water, a movie I'd heard excellent things about. Ultimately, I don't feel like this is a horror movie, and that's my biggest beef with it. It's occasionally creepy, and the climax is spooky, but if anything it's more of a psychological drama. I was tempted to say 'thriller' instead of 'drama', but Dark Water is entirely unconcerned with delivering thrills of any kind. It's a drama, and an exceptionally well made one, but I can't really imagine thing movie scaring anyone outside of the most sensitive of viewers, and even then only in one or two moments. Does this mean Dark Water is a bad movie? Certainly not.

   The movie is about a mother fighting for custody of her six year old daughter amidst the fallout of a messy divorce. The movie is emotionally charged from the outset, and the mother daughter duo is endearing. The mom is earnest and likable, and the daughter is adorable. You genuinely want them to stay together. The acting from both the mom and the daughter is excellent, and the emotions feel incredibly authentic. This is the meat of Dark Water, and the reason(s) why it works. So when the mom has to find a new place for her and her daughter to live rather quickly in order to appease to custody board, she ends up moving into a place with a mysterious history...

   Again I see Japanese culture's predilection for ghosts, and more specifically the ghosts of young girls. From Ringu, to Pulse, to Noroi, Hausu, and Exte- my experience with the genre is very ghost-centric. Or at least vengeful spirit centric, not that this is a bad thing mind you. I've seriously enjoyed all the aforementioned movies, but Dark Water stands apart. It's a very low key movie for the most part, slowly building atmosphere and revealing tiny pieces of the mystery in the background of the movie. The conflict at the core of the movie, driving it forward is the mom's struggle to maintain custody of her daughter. This is of course made harder by all the psychological mind games her new apartment seems to be playing with her.

   As the movie progresses, she seems increasingly unhinged- though maybe not in the same extreme that other movies in the genre would take it to. Again, this isn't a horror movie at heart. It's a family drama. This is why the ending doesn't work for me, and I'm hesitant to get into it here, because I don't want to spoil it, but I felt like the movie didn't adequately resolve the story, to say nothing of resolving it satisfactorily. Moreover, being that it's less concerned with being outright scary than it is with being purely dramatic, I never felt like the movie's ghost or it's supernatural forces were memorable, and especially not in contrast to the antagonistic forces of similar genre fare.

   For every Samara we have crawling out of a TV set, we have the inert imagery of a long-haired little girl in a yellow raincoat. Which is neither as creepy nor as effective as I think the filmmakers wanted it to be. I could be missing the point though, since the imagery is used sparingly and like I've said the movie never makes a hard push for actual scares. The movie is very well made though, and if you have the right set of expectations it's easy to get engrossed in. I enjoyed it for what it was, but I did expect something pretty different. It's creepy atmosphere carried the parts of the movie that the mother daughter dynamic did not, making for an overall well rounded movie.

   The score seemed fairly average, but the cinematography was excellent. On all possible technical levels, Dark Water is a win, but given that it's summarily labeled J-horror, it's lumped in with a whole genre of much scarier movies, leaving Dark Water to seem anemic and washed out by comparison. The emotional core of the movie, it's mother daughter relationship, could have easily been the anchor for a darker, scarier, and more intense horror movie- but instead, this relationship is the movie. Any other considerations are ultimately secondary. So while Dark Water is a moving, emotionally charged, atmospheric, tale about motherly love and sacrifice... it didn't quite feel all that special to me. Good, but not great.

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