The English-language version of Dark Water has been given over into the hands of Walter Salles, the Brazilian director behind such international successes as Central Station (1998), Behind the Sun (2001) and, in particular, the international festival and arthouse hit The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) about the life of the young Che Guevara, and the subsequent English-language adaptation of On the Road (2012).
The remake is surprisingly faithful to the Japanese version and follows the original story closely on almost all points. One of the great advantages of the remake is just how much more that Walter Salles gets inside Jennifer Connellys psychological headspace. In the original, Hideo Nakata gave us an effective portrait of solo mother Hitomi Kuroki but mostly the thrills were external jumps. By comparison, Walter Salles limits the number of scares but places us very much inside Jennifer Connellys subjective state of mind and far more effectively suggests her fraying sanity amidst the situation, even leaving us frequently believing that she could be imagining it all. In many ways, Walter Salles creates a much more effectively haunted and spooky atmosphere of brooding psychological oppressiveness than Hideo Nakata did.
In a great many ways, the milieu of the story also works much more effectively translated to America than it did in Japan. Americas housing problems and notorious rundown low-cost apartments are well documented and one can more than believably accept Jennifer Connellys despair and dilemma at having to move into such a neighbourhood. Roosevelt Island which incidentally is a real location, not one made up for the film looks impressively grey and depressing.
While the build-up is fine, the film completely blows it at the ending. The difference between the Japanese Dark Water and this remake is this: In the Japanese version, Hideo Nakata created a fair to passable ghost story that seemed nothing extraordinarily standout until the ending, which turned everything on its head with a jolt surprise. Walter Salless Dark Water by comparison goes almost the other way Salles creates an absorbingly spooky atmosphere throughout but the entire film is let down by a muddled ending that never clearly lets us know what is happening. The original had a beautiful crystalline clarity we think we see the mother heading downstairs with the daughters body, only for the daughter to emerge elsewhere and for us to suddenly realize that the mother has gone off with the ghost girl instead. While the remake tries to replay this, what happens is muddled. I could realize what the ending here was trying to achieve because I had seen the original but the person who sat through the film with me, who had not seen the Japanese version, was baffled as to what was going on. The remake is also missing the very effective and haunting epilogue where the now teenage daughter returns to the house years later to find the mother still there tending the ghost child.
Jennifer Connelly is good, although she is often upstaged by smaller roles from the likes of John C. Reilly and an unrecognizable Tim Roth (who I thought for all the world was Ron Silver throughout most of the film) who both give fine performances as people mouthing words of assurance while ignoring everything she says.