(2005)3.5Jason BuchananIt's easy to get frustrated with Hollywood when considering the studio system's over-reliance on remakes and at times seemingly paralyzing phobia of producing anything that could be perceived as remotely original -- and for fans of Japanese horror films in particular, the remake explosion has cut especially close to the bone. In rare cases, though, when given time and careful consideration -- and when the original shows promise yet lacks perfection -- a remake can be a truly satisfying and more effective extension of the concepts presented in the original. With his remake of Ring director Hideo Nakata's 2002 thriller Dark Water, Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles achieves the rare feat of actually improving on the original, thanks in no small part to the screenwriting skills of Rafael Yglesias -- who realized that a little subtlety can go a long way. Not only are the actions of the characters more believable in the American incarnation of Kôji Suzuki's dark mystery, but by reducing the focus on the now-clichéd creepy little girl with long hair and instead focusing on the mental deterioration of the mother, the strain of her failed marriage, and the frail but loving relationship that she shares with her daughter, Yglesias and Salles allow the viewer to truly connect with the characters before ratcheting up the tension by introducing the supernatural element.
While it is true that some of the more explicit "scare" scenes were excised in this version in favor of crafting better-drawn characters, the substitution ultimately makes the end payoff more effective. Even for those who don't have children, it will be difficult not to empathize with the mother who, while quite possibly emotionally unbalanced, does her best to reconcile the trauma of her own childhood, and it's here where actress Jennifer Connelly truly brings the character of Dahlia to life. The supporting players -- including John C. Reilly's hoagie-chomping slumlord, Tim Roth's phone-camera-happy lawyer, and Pete Postlethwaite's crusty superintendent -- also shine, with Salles and Yglesias providing just enough character quirks to allow them to stand out and make an impression. Another performance worth mentioning is Dougray Scott's portrayal of Dahlia's husband, Kyle -- a role effectively expanded in the American version to both give viewers a better understanding of Dahlia's past and enhance the mystery. Though younger audiences may not be able to connect with Dark Water as well as older viewers due to its mature themes and favoring of slow-burn dread over quick-cut shocks, the film remains a shining example of low-key psychological horror that, while remaining true to its roots in the J-horror movement, transcends its mediocre origins to provide chills that run deep and will likely only improve with age.