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Dark Water: Unrated Widescreen Edition DVD Review

Dark Water

Theatrical Release: July 8, 2005 / Running Time: 103 Minutes (Unrated Cut) / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Walter Salles

Cast: Jennifer Connelly (Dahlia Williams), Ariel Gade (Ceci Williams), John C. Reilly (Mr. Murray), Tim Roth (Jeff Platzer), Dougray Scott (Kyle), Camryn Manheim (Teacher), Pete Postlethwaite (Veeck), Perla Haney-Jardine (Natasha)


Review by Aaron Wallace

Twice, a Disney studio branch has redefined the scary movie: in 1996 with Dimension's Scream and again three years later with Hollywood Pictures' The Sixth Sense. They then turned all that upside down in 2000, when Scary Movie took the Scream trilogy's air of self-referentiality to a new level (and genre). Of course, DreamWorks soon took over as king of the thriller dominion with The Ring in 2002 and the box office hasn't seen a worthy competitor since. So what's new in the suspense realm of cinema? In spite of the industry's current Saw-spawned gluttony of gore, Touchstone sought to recapture the crown last year with Dark Water, a suspense thriller from Japanese novelist Kôji Suzuki (author of the book that inspired The Ring) that took the more respectable route of his past successes.

It follows the plight of Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly), a young woman in the middle of a messy divorce and looking for an inexpensive residence for her and her five-year-old daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade). She winds up in a run-down apartment in Roosevelt Island, New York where the ambiance isn't too appealing but the proximity to a fine school for Ceci is. Already exhausted from despicable legal ploys from her husband and the search for an affordable attorney, Dahlia is further frustrated by a severe water leakage from the floor above. She takes her complaints to the landlord, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), only to learn that no one's lived in that unit for some time. The worse the water problem becomes, the more it seems to affect Ceci, whose teacher (Camryn Manheim) begins to notice some concerning patterns in the child's behavior. As time goes on and pieces of a mystery are unveiled, Dahlia takes matters into her own hands and begins to invest her suspicions in the supernatural.

Dahlia comforts Ceci. The apartment building super is as creepy as Pete Postlethwaite!

If that sounds slightly familiar, it's probably because you've seen The Ring. The two bear a striking number of similarities, but unlike The Ring, this won't so much as startle you, let alone scare you. It will, however, keep you in near-constant suspense -- and it's that good edge-of-your-seat kind, too. The story is hardly original, but it is mostly solid and the acting is even better, with each lead delivering capably. It only falters in one area: an underdeveloped subplot that seeks to tie the haunting events in with Dahlia's nightmares of her childhood. Well, that and the feeling that you've seen all this happen before.

Viewers looking to own this one on DVD have two options: a fullscreen theatrical cut and a widescreen unrated edition (since when do fans of widescreen and fans of unrated cuts overlap?). The latter is the lone basis of this review, which is preferable to a pan & scan source, but the inaccessibility of the original version of the film for those wanting it in its original aspect ratio is frustrating, especially given that the unrated edition runs two minutes shorter than its theatrical counterpart for reasons I can't be sure of without screener copies of both to compare. There's nothing scintillating enough here to clearly label this as an "unrated" release in its traditional sense. In this cut, at least, the ending is extremely unsatisfying, but I won't say anything more. That said, the journey there is an entertaining one, and that counts for something.

Buy Dark Water: Unrated Widescreen Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
(Reformatted Fullscreen Available Separately for Theatrical Cut Only)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 26, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

In all, Dark Water's video presentation on DVD is satisfying. The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of the brand-new movie meets the high expectations one has for a 2005 film, though every once in a while it turns a little soft and the moiré effect turns up just slightly at least once. The non-nit-picky won't file any complaints.

One of the most striking elements of the viewing experience is the impressive portrayal of sound, which feels entirely natural but still occasionally manages to grab one's attention long enough to impress. The disc offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track that is of the blue-ribbon Enhanced Home Theater Mix that is exclusive to Disney-distributed releases. It pleases in the same fantastic ways that it has on DVDs like The Lion King. The sound is truly surrounding and wraps the viewer inside the cinematic environment while leaving no complaints whatsoever. Be sure to watch this in a home theater setting if at all possible.

Jennifer Connelly talks about motherhood and Dark Water in "An Extraordinary Ensemble." These deleted scenes last about as long as it takes to look at a screencap from them. "Dark Water" drips with suspense.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN

There's no audio commentary or theatrical trailer included on this disc. The former is a little surprising, while the latter isn't, but is even more disappointing. To compensate, however, the runtime of the bonuses that are included adds up to a little more than normally accompanies this kind of release. The first is "Beneath the Surface: The Making of Dark Water" (15:48), an extremely standard and highly promotional behind-the-scenes look at the film. In it, the cast and crew talk about the movie as if it's a great revolution in the history of horror films, which isn't even a little true. The segment is divided into five sections, which can be accessed individually or played all at once.

Similarly, "An Extraordinary Ensemble" (25:55) interviews those involved with the project both in front of and behind the cameras and documents their thoughts on the movie. A word to the wise: don't watch this (or any of the features, really) without first having seen the movie. The cast and crew gather to basically laud one another,
with each key player getting their own brief segment. The truth is that the ensemble, or at least the acting cast, really is rather extraordinary in this movie, so the comments here are of greater interest than in the making-of piece, even if both featurettes play out in basically the same way. Despite being the longest feature, there's no chapter listing.

In "Analyzing Dark Water Sequences" (5:35), the filmmakers give their thoughts on three select scenes from the latter parts of the film. These come as video interviews that cut to film clips with the audio running atop them, so it feels like an abbreviated substitute for a feature commentary. The most interesting is the scene called "Wall of Water," which takes a look at some very impressive visual effects in the movie and how they were created. The other two come from the story's climax. All three can be played at once if so desired.

"The Sound of Terror: The Subliminal Soundscapes of Dark Water" (7:19) is a promising offering. It's not quite as technical as some film fans might have hoped, but it is effective in enhancing appreciation for the sound presence that wasn't always apparent but was playing an important role throughout.

There are two deleted scenes included. Together, they run less than two minutes and barely even count as scenes. Basically, Dahlia does a little laundry in the first and Ceci speaks to her father in the second. Neither amounts to much of anything, though the first one does go a little further in showing some of Dahlia's anxiety as she explains the odd sequence of events on the phone. A "Play All" feature is available, but not really recommended because the quick fading in the second deleted scene makes it difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins.

The animated main menu isn't very appealing, as it's just a static-filled (intentionally so) video of a dripping sink, though the reflection of each title on the screen when it's selected is neat. It is moody, I suppose, and opens with a more elaborate sequence. All of the menus are accompanied by a section of score, but as is usually the case with Ring-like movies, that score doesn't work very well when it's not coupled with suspense-filled drama and is extremely grating when left on its own to accompany a looping menu screen. The Bonus Features menu is also animated.

The Sneak Peeks menu employs a snazzier introductory animation sequence than is typical for its first page, which contains the previews that play automatically when the disc begins: Flightplan, Annapolis, Shopgirl, and Frank Miller's Sin City: Recut and Extended. On the second page, one can preview a set of romantic comedies called Shadows in the Sun and Everything You Want (complete with a role from Will Friedle, it seems) and the second season of ABC's super-hit drama, "Lost."

There's something (weird) about Ceci. John C. Reilly is always a treat.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the mood for engrossment in a popcorn suspense thriller? Dark Water is for you. Just don't expect too much originality or entire satisfaction. A weak ending might sound like a total turn-off, but the narrative doesn't rely on resolution in this movie as much as one might think. So while the rushed closing is disappointing, it doesn't mean that the engaging hour and a half that proceeds it isn't worth watching. The solid cast performances and overall entertainment value ensure that it's worth consideration.

The DVD release is agitating, as it's downright impossible to own this movie in the same form that was exhibited in theaters just a few months ago. A couple of the bonus features are worthwhile while others aren't so much and the self-praise runs the risk of hardening an audience's criticism. Still, the video presentation satisfies and the Enhanced Home Theater Mix is top-notch, which makes this release of particular value to those with their own home theater.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com



More on Honogurai mizu no soko kara (the original Japanese Dark Water) available on DVD

Related Reviews
Flightplan (2005) • The Brothers Grimm (2005) • Sky High (2005)
The Village (2004) • King Arthur (2004) • Dear Frankie (2005)
Shall We Dance? (1997 Japanese Original) • Shall We Dance? (2004 Remake)
Other Disney Movies Featuring The Cast of Dark Water:
Jennifer Connelly: The Rocketeer (1991) • Pete Postlethwaite: James and the Giant Peach (1996)

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Reviewed January 27, 2006.