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Abandoned Loved Ones Float in "Dark Water"

  • Eric Rice Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 27, 2007
Abandoned Loved Ones Float in "Dark Water"

Release Date:  July 8, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language)
Genre:  Drama/Thriller/Horror
Run Time:  105 minutes
Director:  Walter Salles
Actors:  Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Pete Postlewaite, Camry Manheim, Ariel Gade, Perla Haney-Jardine

Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) has a problem.  She is going through a nasty divorce from the father of her eight-year-old daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade) who left them for another woman.  He believes Dahlia is slightly crazy, referring to her upbringing by an angry alcoholic mother.  She desperately wants to be a good mother to her daughter and prove her ex (Dougray Scott) wrong, but the pressure of finding an affordable apartment, a job, and a school nearby, has aggravated her nervousness and acute migraine headaches.

To make matters worse, her apartment is a dump in a strange, dreary, decaying, '70s cement-and-metal high-rise on Roosevelt Island, a small, undesirable strip of land across the river from New York.  The complex’s key features are its dimly lit, baby-diaper-green hallways, puddles of water from the constant rain, and a clunky graffiti-sprayed elevator (also with drips) that seems to have a mind of its own.

The apartment itself is so small it has, as the landlord says, “a combination bedroom/living room” that Dahlia has to make her own.  It also has a nightmare feature that every parent wants in their child’s room:  an oozing black, moldy stain on the ceiling that drips dark brown water almost constantly.  The landlord, Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly) is a smiley, used-car-salesman type who promises to repair the drip, blames the constant rain, but rarely delivers. The building also includes a creepy handyman (Pete Postlewaite) who is strange, belligerent, and knows something he is not telling about the apartment one floor above Dahlia’s.

Soon after arriving to apartment 9E, Dahlia transforms the place into a livable, happy environment for Ceci.  She finds a good school and job nearby, the handyman repairs the oozing patch, and things seem to be progressing nicely … that is until Ceci begins playing with a new imaginary friend, and things begin to go bump in the night from the “abandoned” apartment upstairs.  Soon, Dahlia doubts her sanity and ability to properly mother her daughter.  Her migraines increase, and her dreams become more erratic and bizarre.  Ceci’s invisible friend is now with her constantly, making suggestions that most parents would disagree with, and causing Ceci to behave erratically at school, thus putting more pressure on Mom. 

In her desperation, Dahlia contacts a friend-recommended attorney named Jim Platzer (Tim Roth) who, she hopes, will help her battle the child custody issues her ex-husband is raising.  Platzer is the definitive small time, New York divorce lawyer, who apparently works out of his car, a virtual rolling office.  Dahlia is convinced that her ex is using two teenage hoods to create the noises and dripping leak to intimidate her into giving up Ceci forever.  Kindhearted, though slightly shady, he tries his best to understand Dahlia’s dilemmas that are threatening to overwhelm her … and possibly destroy her.

“Dark Water” is a well-made movie.  It is more suspenseful than horrific, with no gore, or blood, but lots of chilling, “Don’t open that door!” moments.  Since it is a ghost movie, there are ghosts, but there is nothing satanic or ritualistic about it.

Director Walter Salles has a keen ability to create great tension and shock value through everyday items, creative sound effects, and editing.  Reflecting back, some of the scariest moments had little to do with the supernatural.  The audience is just “expecting” something to happen.  Salles played us like a violin without resulting in too many cheap tricks.  Of course a masterful, yet subtly music track by Angelo Badalamenti perfectly accents, adds to and releases the tension of each scene.

More importantly, to the filmmaker’s credit, there is a powerful theme that is reinforced several times … abandonment of a child, divorce, and the long-term effects it has on an adult. Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) does a masterful job as the troubled mom trying to hold a difficult situation together.

As the clever story progresses, audiences must wonder if the ghosts are real or imagined … friendly, or evil.  Will Dahlia conquer her own personal ghosts of the past so she can fight off the ghosts of the present?  As believers, we should take notice when the world considers abandonment and divorce – and their long-term effects – to be horrible enough to be a theme for a ghost story. 

Finally, good movie “rules of thumb":  Don’t leave your child alone too long lest they sing to invisible friends, and don’t put money down on an apartment that oozes.  Just a suggestion. ...
AUDIENCE:  Teenagers and adults


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Main character uses (possibly over-uses) pain medication
  • Language/Profanity:  One profanity
  • Sex/Nudity:  None
  • Violence:  Drowning, drowning attempt