The influx of Japanese horror films during the late nineties and early naughties certainly caused many a sleepless night. Ordinary-day objects became cursed portals from which demons and spirits would emerge to tear our souls apart. Television, once our allied friend, became a vicious door for a ghoulish girl to crawl out of. The most innocent-sounding telephone call would predict suicide. Children were now wary, creepy creatures who’d murder you with a gleeful grin.
All of our new horrors could be blamed on one man, director Hideo Nakata. The genius mind behind The Ring, its predecessor, and the live action remake of popular anime Death Note, caused nightmares to pool all round.
In 2002, Nakata decided to tackle a well known slippery substance in the aptly named horror Dark Water.
Now we UK audiences were already wary of lakes and rivers due to the wave of nightmares caused by safety advert Lonely Water, but Nakata embellished the spiritual dangers that inhabit our day-to-day encounters with water: sinks, baths and, for the unlucky few, damp. Nakata’s work ripples and irks underneath our skins with a waning sadness.
Dark Water sees Hitomi Kuroki as Yoshimi Matsubara, a mother who has moved into a block of flats with her young daughter Ikuko. They soon become targets for supernatural, macabre events as pools of water spool in their apartment and signs of another young girl, long forgotten, begin to surface…
Though not as hard-hitting as Ring, Dark Water has enough depth to sink into your system. Drawing you into the heart of the story, Nakata’s horror is a modern ghostly tale that plays upon the mother/daughter relationship, especially as Yoshimi and Ikuko are alienated from the rest of the world. The absorbing atmosphere allows you to crawl into the heart of this relationship as they battle against an unseen force. Yoshimi’s dedication and her desperation to keep her daughter safe allow us to empathise with the story and, ultimately, infuse a greater terror within us.
Dark Water relies on Nakata’s ability to linger: His shots drawl over its scenery and hold your trepidation a long time, allowing the dread to build with every provocative moment. Avoiding the jump scare technique, Dark Water broods and boils with a tension that causes your toes to curl. Riding on the inexplicable, bounding with the unnerving and focusing on impact, Nakata’s work is an intelligent horror masterpiece.
A few years later, Americans would attempt to adapt Dark Water with Jennifer Connelly but would ultimately fail at capturing the special quality of Nakata’s work. With a combination of hair-raising chills and a visceral motherhood at its core, Dark Water drips with an unforgettable atmosphere. As the harrowing and emotional ending spills onto the screen, you’ll leave confounded by this delicate yet effective horror film.