Thursday, October 15, 2015

31 Days of Horror- Day 15: Dark Water (2002)

(dir. Hideo Nakata)

Toho Company LTD.

*First time viewing

A single mother and her daughter move into a dreary apartment building where water and supernatural occurrences leak into their lives.

Hideo Nakata, who garnered critical acclaim in the horror world for 1998’s Ringu, delivers a film that balances the emotional battle of motherhood with a truly haunting ghost story. In many ways, it’s the perfect thematic companion to Tuesday’s entry, The Orphanage. Yoshimi’s struggle to maintain custody over her daughter Ikuko is just as compelling as the story of the ghost Mitsuko’s harrowing struggle to cease custody over Yoshimi. We have two characters, one living and one dead, who are both in search of a mother they can rely on. While Mitsuko is obviously the antagonist, Nakata carefully sidesteps making her into a figure we grow to hate. We may find her methods horrific, her sense of entitlement unjust, and her presence chilling, but she remains a child in need, powerful but no more or less dependent than Ikuko.

Two of the frequent complaints I have about J-horror are the rather bland locations and gray palate washed over everything, as well as the sometimes impenetrable nature of the stories, which often rely more so on atmosphere than narrative clarity. Dark Water still has the same faded color palate as its contemporaries, but here it becomes an effective tool in terms of making Yoshimi and Ikuko’s home feel distinctly unwelcoming. Everything is washed in sadness, both present and past, which makes the cinematography feel purposeful and unique instead of routine. And in terms of story, Dark Water fully delivers on providing a plot that is logical and accessible every step of the way, and characters that you can actually feel something for. These ultimately make the fantastic climax all the more frightening and emotionally investing. Like The Orphanage, Dark Water’s final moments are overtly tragic and tinged with a bit of sweetness, making the entire film but an exercise in heart-racing and heart-tugging.

Scare Factor: 4/5 Full of jolting scares and a convincing exploration of what ownership means, Dark Water is quickly becoming one of my favorite examples of J-horror.

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