Dark Water (2005) – film review

Here’s a young mother with a five-year-old daughter freshly divorced from her husband who thinks she’s delusional, paranoid even, and wants to keep sole custody of their daughter. The daughter is everything she has reason to live, a life that has been so hard to endure with an indelible traumatic childhood. Yet, because she sees herself in her daughter needing constant unconditional love, which she was not allowed to have, she will do anything to protect her from the harsh reality of life, even from the supernatural peril of the beyond reality.

So the story of Dark Water (2005) narrates Dahlia, a young divorcee trying to take full custody of her daughter Ceci away from her assiduously hostile husband. Instead, he embarks on a legal battle to claim sole possession of Ceci because of Dahlia’s unstable mental state. Dahlia, a once copy editor from Seattle, takes a low-paying administrative position at a Manhattan Radiology office for livelihood in a delipidated apartment in Roosevelt Island with Ceci. The semblance of the apartment is the working-class version of Rosemary’s apartment. Dark water is leaking everywhere: from the elevator to their bedroom ceiling, and the laundry room, which is a prelude to the finding of a tank on the rooftop where the traumatic ends of a certain young Russian girl abandoned, unloved finds her and her memories. Or is it Dahlia’s phantasmal delusion of confronting her own child self in her painkiller-induced pill to alleviate the cruel migraine caused by the yoke of woes?

Dark Water is an American adaptation of the original Japanese film Dark Water (2002) by Koji Suzuki, the famous writer of the Ring trilogy, excellently translated to an American audience who will find broad universal themes of human nature, psychology, and behavior. You don’t have to have perfect childhood fed on parental love to be a loving parent. Of course, unhappy childhood will affect the development of one’s character and behavior pattern more or less, but it all boils down to one’s nature to be loved and be loving. Dahlia wants to counteract the demon of the past, which still grabs her with its tenacious tentacle of recurring nightmares and murderous migraine, by being constantly -and eternally – loving and kind to Ceci despite her unhealed scars left in her child self. Perhaps that is why her name is Dahlia, whose flower word is loyalty, dignity, courage, and support due to its withstanding of harsh conditions.

Jennifer Connelly, playing Dahlia, is not only beautiful but also talented in a way that few actresses on screen possess in our time. Her presence in scenes is unique in that her character is downright realistic yet oddly out of the world in a riveting way, as exhibited in this film. No wonder the late film critic Roger Ebert admired her for the same reason. With her exceptional performance and the storytelling that grips the eyes and ears of the beholder, Dark Water is a worthy film for those who delight in supernatural horror without blood and screams.

‘The Boy’ (2016) – film essay

Invitation, Manifestation, and Escape are typical acts in horror movies from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Changeling’ and to ‘The Others’, all of which are supreme ones of the genre, demonstrating the genuine scare is without a masked slasher on a killing spree that seems to revive forever like a Phoenix. But what about ‘The Boy’ (2016)? The movie is a lackluster flick, a smart apprentice of the masters mentioned above but without depth and breadth of knowledge of the essence of things, natural and supernatural.

It follows a young American woman with a past named Greta (very German or Grimm maybe?) hired by the overtly strange elderly couple as a nanny to their little son Brahms (possibly Bram Stoker?), a porcelain doll. As in Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Death, she shocks and denies, then accepts that she is a nanny to the doll. Of course, pretty Greta is not lonely because a young, good-looking grocer named Malcolm courts her as politely suavely as an English can be. Then Greta’s ex-lover Cole, who is the epitome of big, rough, and domineering man, suddenly manifesting from America in the English mansion, demanding she should leave for the states in the morning with him. And that’s not the end, for we are rudely introduced by a third character (or the same?), and the stupendousness of the story swivels in the flashes of screams, blood, tears, etc.


Watching this movie last night on Netflix made me think that the classic horrors of the 70s and 80s were indeed long gone and would not revive – at least for now. What begins as a classic supernatural story ends as a tepid escapade from one big mess. Greta’s coming to England is loosely explained, not to mention Cole’s sudden appearance in the English countryside manor is abruptly shoehorned into the story, breaking the thread of subplots, changing the atmosphere of the movie into a thriller that is not supernatural at all. Nevertheless, Lauren Cohan’s performance as Greta is commendable for her naturalness and arduousness in portraying her role that is the only gem of the movie that makes it watchable without turning it off.

Maybe I am either anachronistic or fastidious in selecting horror movies because of my propensity for subtle but incredible supernatural thematic elements without monsters, deformed humans, or amorous lovers. So be it. It’s all about how a story is intelligently and entertainingly told on the screen with minimum special effects, gore scenes, love scenes staging in either big swanky English country houses or big deserted mansions that are conveniently used as thematic elements. Reading the background information on this movie, I have noticed that there are quite a few production companies involved in making it. Would it be the reason for turning this otherwise excellent thematic element into a dull child’s play? Did all the companies know a thing about a movie not in monetary terms but art for art’s sake? I wonder.

Roger Ebert’s Cinema Paradiso

A critic, according to Abraham Lincoln, has a right to criticize, but has a heart to help. Being a critic requires erudition drown upon a wealth of reading combined with a natural sagacity grown from enriched humanity wielded into an alchemy of words. A good critic with a poet’s heart guides the public with a lantern lighting the artist’s labyrinth in his world and helps us see the unseen in the far corner of a maze with a wealth of knowledge, sans arrogance of intelligence as Roger Ebert.

Unlike his other contemporary peers, Ebert was liberal in views, conservative in beliefs, and fair in judgments, the commendable attributes shared by Samuel Johnson, a 17 century English social/cultural critic, essayist, and dictionarian. He wrote a public in his mind and showed no peremptory atmosphere typically attributable to influential critics showing off their mastery of language not accessible to all due to their expensive private high education. Once Ebert trenchantly criticized a specific movie for its crude violence, abject dystopian portrayal of reality, and shuddering absence of humanity. The director of the film remonstrated with him in a public letter that Ebert’s criticism ignored the fact of life, which is akin to earthly circles of hell. Ebert replied to the director that if that was how he looked at the world, then it should not be forced upon the audience’s minds, exerting his raw and one-dimensional creation of reality upon the sentiments and judgments of the audience. Ebert believed that the world was worth living because there’s hope among the odds to sparkle before our eyes with joy flitting at our sides. This belief should be an essence of Arts that gives off beauty, pleasing to our senses that grows into reason. That is the purpose of arts, to which film belongs.

For this reason and my kindred perspectives on films in general, I miss Roger Ebert, although his writings are perennial. He didn’t grandstand with politically charged views on movies. He believed ‘Art is for Art’s Sake’ because films and books and paintings are not to be used as propagandas for a specific party ideology but to be appreciated for the minds’ food. W.H Auden said of his duty as a poet in society was to defend the use of language. I think Roger Ebert as a film critic in society was to defend the use of film as art to give life a shape.