Dark Water is everything we expect a scary movie to be except, you know, scary. Unless the very thought of H2O leaking from every pore of an apartment that no one in her right mind would ever live in terrifies you, in which case Dark Water is everything we expect a scary movie to be except, you know, plausible. Looking implausibly beautiful, as usual, Jennifer Connelly plays Dahlia, a woman who, because she's not in her right mind and because she's just separated from her husband and can't afford anything else, takes an apartment on Roosevelt Island, just across the East River from Manhattan.
And not just any ol' apartment. This one has walls the various shades of puke, windows that haven't been cleaned since the Roosevelt administration and a large suppurating wound on the ceiling of the bedroom. Along for the elevator ride, as part of the movie's mother-and-child-in-peril scenario, is Dahlia's young daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade), who forms an imaginary friend before you can say "The apartment above us is definitely haunted." How else to explain the pitter-patter of little feet, even though the place is supposed to be unoccupied? And how else to explain the strands of hair that come pouring out of the bathroom faucet?
One other possible explanation: a lame script. Based on a horror movie by Hideo Nakata, who made the original Japanese version of The Ring, Dark Water is long on atmosphere and short on plot. But director Walter Salles, best known for last year's The Motorcyle Diaries, can't seem to figure out how to charge that atmosphere with fear and dread. Instead, he just keeps opening the sluice gates, letting that dark water flow. If Psycho made it hard to go back in the shower and Jaws made it hard to go back in the ocean, Dark Water makes it hard to go back in the movie theater ' not without an umbrella, anyway.
Water's a symbol for the unconscious, of course, and what Dahlia needs is a therapist who will help her confront the brackish gunk oozing up from her own lost childhood. But Connelly may be too implausibly beautiful to indicate that kind of interior life, although she creates a nice balance between strength and fragility. Other fine actors are wasted ' Pete Postlethwaite as a scuzzy building superintendent, Tim Roth as a scuzzy lawyer. Only John C. Reilly, as a scuzzy rental agent, leaves a mark. When he tries to pass the apartment off as a rare gem, he's so transparently lying that it starts to seem like some higher form of truth. If you ask me, the movie could have used more of Reilly's smarmy charm ' that and a sump pump.