In the middle of a bitter custody battle Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) moves with her young daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno) to a rundown apartment building.
The huge water stain that appears on the ceiling is the beginning of a series of strange and haunting events – including weird noises and fleeting appearances by a small girl in a yellow hooded raincoat – all of which plague mother and daughter, linking them to terrible tragedies from the past.
Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara) is adapted from a novel by Koji Suzuki – Japan’s answer to Stephen King, and is Hideo Nakata’s second film. His first, being the hugely popular (and pointlessly remade by Hollywood) Ring, which was instrumental in scaring the living daylights out of the world and creating a new trend in Japanese cinema: ‘J-Horror’.
This, and films such as Hypnosis, Takashi Miike’s Audition and the Pang brothers’ The Eye, heralded a new wave of Eastern horror films which finally revitalised a genre wallowing in post-modern self awareness, tired ideas and clichéd gore –all kick-started by Wes Craven’s Scream .
Unlike Hollywood directors whose remakes of horror flicks are two-a-penny, Nakata knows the difference between repeating or stealing ideas and paying homage to classic chillers. Dark Water contains moments and themes similar to Don’t Look Now, The Shining and The Haunting, but all are reworked to fit his dark and subtle style.
Dark Water’s terror lies in the abandoned corridors and empty city streets – and, most importantly, it lies in the viewer’s imagination. What the film does so well is infuse the screen with a sense of impending dread and terror. Refraining from showing too much too early, Nakata builds up layers of tension, so that when the shocks do arrive they are far more terrifying.
Dark Water is not the best in the genre, but a perfect starting point for a journey through a brilliant collection of Far East chillers that are guaranteed to disturb and scare you. Rent it, turn out the lights and prepare for a fright…
Dark Water is out now as part of an amazing Asian Horror box-set (along with Audition and The Eye) released by Palisades Tartan.