Pardon the W.C. Fields rant, but *Dark Water* is too good a film to be hijacked by walking pimple sacks, sorry. Here is a great work of art that has been virtually disowned by its director because of the poor box office returns. Hey, Salles, if you're reading this, there's no reason for you to hang your head in shame over this picture. I, for one, appreciated your baroque homage to Polanski's *Repulsion*, and can even state that the performance you get out of Jennifer Connelly actually surpasses Deneuve's work in that earlier film. Connelly thoroughly inhabits the role -- an unglamorous one that asks this beautiful actress to dress in ratty clothes while suffering from constant migraines. She convinces us as a desperate case, both financially and emotionally, and also convinces us that Dahlia is an honest-to-goodness mom (Connelly has a couple of kids in real life, which not only helps, but is a necessity on an actress' resume if she presumes to play this part). And it's not just Connelly who scores in the acting department: John C. Reilly as the superintendent delivers an immortal monologue (mostly improvised, according to the DVD extras) as he offers Dahlia and her daughter a grand tour of the hideous housing project on Roosevelt Island that is the setting of the movie. "Where's the living room?" asks Dahlia. "This is it," effuses Reilly, "It's both bedroom AND living room! It's what they call a DUAL-USE room. Look at it -- it's huge!" Anyone who has ever dealt with a real estate agent will recognize Reilly's canny mix of friendliness and utter untrustworthiness. A-class talent such as Pete Postlethwaite and Tim Roth also make significant contributions as the building's janitor and Dahlia's lawyer, respectively.
But the prime virtue of the film is in the photography and set design. *Dark Water* is that rarest of horror films: it's set in the city. Roosevelt Island, to be precise, that run-down spit of land across the river from Manhattan, encrusted with Soviet-bloc inspired tenement housing. ("The Brutalist style," as Reilly would have it.) Salles' DP has a field day in this environment, getting some nice aerial shots of the brick and cement rat maze, as well as some low shots pointing up toward the tenement towers' imposing height. The weather is usually rainy (the incessant leitmotiv of the film is water, obviously), the sky is gun-gray, smokestacks dominate the horizon, the overall color palette consists of institutional gray, poverty-row brown, icky black, depression blue. The interiors, specifically of Dahlia and Ceci's apartment -- along with the mysterious 10-F directly upstairs -- is a fond homage to Catherine Deneuve's greasy, miserable apartment in Polanski's *Repulsion*, with some nods thrown towards the Coens' *Barton Fink* along the way (especially in regards to the peeling plaster and moist dry-wall and overall dilapidation).
But is *Dark Water* really scary? Presumably, this would be the point. It's probably not scary enough to scare the pimple sacks, but it's scary enough for those who've had to deal with life's most fundamental problems, such as raising a child alone, or finding oneself crippled by either physical or mental handicaps, aggravated by an unhappy past, WHILE raising a child alone. In other words, it's scary enough for grown-ups, who can find terror in watching their children cross a busy intersection. And in any case, Salles delivers a few choice jolts along the way, which I won't spoil. But the genius of the film is in its atmosphere: an unrelenting brooding menace that feeds off of urban misery. *Dark Water* is depressing and scary.
And splendid. 9 ardent stars out of 10.