Dark Water 2002-Review
Dark Water (Honogurai Mizu no soko kara or “From the Depths of Dark Water”) is a slow moving and familiar reflection on the fringe memories of childhood abandonment trauma. It takes time to allow its viewer to lament on their own deeply lodged and long forgotten moments though lingering instances of oppression and mundanity.
The true tragedy of all our pasts is just how absolutely simple the worst parts of them are. How every one of us, no matter where we are, are revisited by the flashes of our most terrible moments.
Loss, embarrassment, loneliness, sickness. All those memories that we simultaneously forget about over time, but return constantly in moments when we are alone or when things are going badly. Recurring trauma that can continue to shape and refine us.
Dark Water spends its time lingering on multiple occurrences of the same trauma. Each of its victims suffering the same shared moment, like a recurring cycle, fated to happen to all eventually. In time every little girl and boy will be left feeling alone, let down and abandoned by those who mean to protect them.
It’s in Dark Water’s final moments that it considers this feeling of separation as an eventuality, a pain every child and parent must endure for the greater protection of their child. That in time all children must be left to live without a parents care if they too are to be the adults they are meant to be.
Dark Water as much different to is sister production Ringu, far more of the traditional haunted house story than a thriller, there’s a dull oppressive eventuality to its conclusion. It successfully captures the creeping dark dull feeling of moving into and residing in a depressing block of flats or apartment building. Where dry rot, damp, and faulty lifts are as much a nightmare as any possible haunting. Where they could be substituted for one and the same.
I’m sure most people can relate to living in a run down building at some time or another, where you’re complaints to the owner or superintendent fall on deaf ears. A simple leak being an oppressive living nightmare to you, and a non-issue to the people most capable of fixing it.
In a more direct sense Yoshimi Matsubara’s slow descent into emotional collapse due to the combination of psychological assault brought on via a child custody battle, which is in turn amplified by her own memories of childhood abandonment, and the torment of the spectral manifestation of that self same abandonment cone to its worst horrible conclusion is often striking.
The story is all metaphor as it reflects on the damage that fighting over a child’s future can often do to the very child a parent may want to protect.
Is the haunting real or imagined? In the end is Yoshimi protecting her daughter from a relentless and abandoned ghost or from herself?
For the most part this adaptation is well done and effective both as a literal ghost story and a lamentation on the challenges of emotional trauma, but there are some moments that can feel a little discordant with this overall intention. Some of the soundtrack feels a little heavy-handed, often shouting at the viewer to rectorate that this is a scary ghost story, feeling at odds with the intention. One moment late into the third act uses some very out of place CGI and disrupts the feel of the narrative, although this is a bit of a consequence of the time it was made.
Some occasional reveals can feel a little over obvious too, with the camera and edit desperate to show you that there is a ghost over in the corner or opening that door. It would have been more to the narratives favour if the director had been more comfortable showing without telling. More willing to hide the films’ entity in plain sight, in the corner of a background shot or hidden by darkness. Creating a more oppressive notion of a haunting and allowing the viewer to question their personal perception of events.
That’s not to say that these moments of obviousness result in a ruined experience, they just show where with a slightly lighter hand the metaphor at work could have landed much more successfully.
Dark Warter still lingers with you, relying on a shared human experience to reach an emotional punch. It reflects on all our pasts, on the moment where we realize that our parents and trusted carers are not always going to be there to look after us. That they may often hurt us though their actions, intended or unintended. That our own attempts to prevent doing the same to those we love later in life may actually be repeating the cycle of abandonment and hurt.