“Dark Water” is one of those creepy/tingly films that you don’t think you want to see, then pulls you into its dreary, dank interior until you go home not wanting to turn on a water faucet.
Jennifer Connelly plays Dahlia, a just-separated Mom in the midst of trying to work with mediators about the visitation arrangements. It’s wearying business. Each parent is trying to undermine the other, and both firmly believe they’re operating in the best interests of the child, but they’re too emotionally involved to separate that from their own best interests. The Dad, Kyle (Dougray Scott) is not portrayed as an uncaring monster, but is just frustrated enough to be believable, especially as he loses his temper over the way she remembers a shared past. He thinks she’s re-writing history. She thinks that he could not possibly be as good a parent as she is. And so they stalk off to their respective desultory apartments.
Dahlia’s digs are not only bleak and foreboding, there’s an unctuous owner (John C. Reilly), a curmudgeon super (Pete Postlethwaite), and a foul-looking water leak in the ceiling. Desperate to find a place to land that she can afford, she accepts the lease, and her troubles with the poltergeist begin immediately. Her six-year-old daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) claims an imaginary friend. Little does Mom know that her own imagination is going to be stretched, as well.
It seems there was a little girl missing from the upstairs apartment. Dahlia has flashbacks to when her mother “forgot” to pick her up. Abandonment motifs abound. The dark water has to do with the danger all around, in this ugly but seemingly benign apartment complex.
Solid secondary performances by Ceci’s teacher (Camryn Manheim), and Dahlia’s Yellow-Pages lawyer (Tim Roth) contribute to the creepiness. “Itsy Bitsy Spider” has never sounded so foreboding.
The true contribution of this movie, besides the stellar acting of Jennifer Connelly, is the realization that memories can haunt both you and other people, often at the same time, though in different ways. Dahlia may or may not make it out of this mess, but somehow in the process she at least manages to redeem this mess.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
Have you ever been visited by the ghosts of the departed?
(see I Samuel 28)
What’s your greatest fear?
What’s your greatest fear for those you love?
What would you be willing to do for those you love? (see Romans 5:7-8)
RON SALFEN is pastor of Westminster Church, Dallas, Texas.