Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Dark Water

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language

Reviewed by: Caroline Mooney

Add to your list?
View your list
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
1 hr. 42 min.
Year of Release:
Featuring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Walter Salles
Producer: Bill Mechanic, Roy Lee, Doug Davison
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures

Some mysteries were never meant to be solved.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is starting a new life; newly separated with a new job and a new apartment, she’s determined to put her relationship with her estranged husband behind her and devote herself to raising her daughter, Ceci. But when the strained separation disintegrates into a bitter custody battle, her situation takes a turn for the worse. Her new apartment—dilapidated, cramped, and worn—seems to take on a life of its own. Mysterious noises, persistent leaks of dark water, and strange happenings cause her imagination to run wild, leaving her to wonder who is behind the endless mind games. As Dahlia frantically searches for the links between the riddles, the dark water seems to close around her. But one thing trumps all others in Dahlia’s world: no matter what it is that’s out there, nothing is going to harm her little girl.”

The filmmakers who brought viewers “The Ring” also created the film “Dark Water”, a suspense-filled film about a young woman who moves to Roosevelt Island with her daughter to begin a new life during a hostile divorce. Faced with the responsibility of raising a child alone, finding a new place to live, and securing a job with “school day hours,” Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter, Cecilia (Ariel Gade), move into a low-rent apartment with an ominous looking water spot on the bedroom ceiling. Of course, only Cecily and Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), the apartment manager, notice the water damage on the bedroom ceiling.

As though living in a seemingly empty, leaky, run-down apartment with a spooky building superintendent isn’t enough, a custody battle soon erupts, and Dahlia is forced to obtain legal council and defend herself as a mother from her estranged husband who suddenly wants to take Cecily away from her. Add in the supernatural aspect of the film, similar to that in “The Ring”, and Dahlia’s nightmarish memories of her own childhood, and you have a genuine psychological thriller.

Personally, and I confess this reluctantly, I loved it—not just the story, but the actual mechanics of the film, the way it was made. The film drew me in; I empathized with Dahlia and cried with Cecily while sitting on the edge of my seat practically the whole time. So, from the fingertips of one who watches films for a hobby, I enjoyed it thoroughly. But when I sit back and think about the content as a professing Christian, I do have some problems with the language, the use of drugs, and the overall idea of “life after death” at least as a ghost.

Inappropriate language in the film, “Dark Water,” is minimal. In fact, I wonder why the filmmakers used it at all. The words “g** d***,” and “s***” are used once; why even put them in the script? In one other instance, two teenage boys make vague, lewd comments towards Dahlia, a very attractive 30-year old woman. However, it’s obvious that the purpose is to add another dimension of suspense. Will these boys harm Dahlia or not? Nothing happens.

The audience learns that Dahlia suffers from migraines, but we first see her grabbing a bottle of pills from the medicine cabinet during stressful times. It isn’t until later in the film that the audience learns of her medical condition. Unfortunately, Dahlia appears to take prescription drugs in order to cope with her stressful situation. But, the drug use isn’t gratuitous; it provides the filmmakers a way to expose Dahlia’s thinking as she falls asleep and dreams. Still, the message is clear: I can’t cope with life so I’ll take a sleeping pill or tranquilizer.

Lastly, the whole ghost thing really bothers me, and I know it’s just a movie, but I believe that films such as “The Ring,” “The Others,” “The Grudge” and “Dark Water” perpetuate a belief in ghosts, or at least confuse people who don’t know the Bible. As a Bible-believing Christian, I know there are no such things as ghosts, and anything portrayed as a ghost in a film or a book must be evil. Lost souls do not remain on Earth to haunt other people or take revenge for their own unfulfilled lives.

“Dark Water” isn’t all bad, though, and there are a couple redeeming qualities in the film. Although Dahlia and Kyle argue bitterly during most of the film, Dahlia does encourage Cecily to make the most of her time with her father. And, in fact, towards the end of the movie, it almost seems as though the couple might move towards reconciliation.

The other positive theme throughout this film is that of motherly love, how a young woman who was abandoned by her own mother could be so determined to love and protect her own child. As a mother, I can relate to Dahlia and her determination to provide for all of Cecily’s needs, both physical and emotional.

My final opinion of “Dark Water” is this: It isn’t a family film, and I would not allow my own children (ages 11 and 13) to watch this film. For any adults reading this review, which is simply my own personal opinion, if you enjoy watching mysteries and non-gory supernatural thrillers, it’s an interesting film.

Better yet, wait until the film is released on DVD and watch the Director’s Commentary (if there is one) to learn about the film’s production. I think it would be very interesting, especially since there are so few actors and locations in the film.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/nudity: None

Year of Release—2005 / USA release date: July 8, 2005 (wide)
Viewer Comments
Negative—This movie was weak. that’s the best way to describe it. it was fairly clean with hardly any swear words, hardly any suggestive material (only a passing comment by a couple of teenage boys)and hardly any blood (if any)… on the flip side, it also had no plot, no chills, and no tension what-so-ever. Jennifer Connely did a good job, but there was nothing there for her to do. John C. Reilly was good as the shady landlord, but once again, his character went nowhere. Tim Roth was good as well, and his character was never explained (why was he always talking about his “family” that didn’t exist?). this was a horror movie without horror. a scary movie without any scares. a mystery without any mystery. anyone that has ever seen a ghost story before will know immediately that the backpack the daughter finds and where it is found is directly correlated to the central “mystery” of the film. save your money and save your time!
My Ratings: Average/1½
—Q Dawg, age 33
Negative—To clear away any bias, I will begin my review by saying, as a Christian, I have absolutely no problem with movies that involve the supernatural. I find them a fun and spooky escape from reality and often enjoy a good scary movie. However, I must say that “Dark Water” is a dreadfully boring film that’s plot cannot seem to catch up with all the running H20. This movie was marketed incorrectly. For the record, this is not a horror movie nor does it touch the realm of psychological thriller. Many are using the term “supernatural drama” to describe this film, but a drama usually contains interesting character development and a situation that draws you in; alas “Dark Water” has none of this. This is not to the fault of the actors/actresses. Surprisingly, this film has quite a credible acting repertoire. Jennifer Connelly carries the film well as the mother and newcomer Ariel Gade couldn’t be cuter as her daughter who briefly befriends the ghost, while John C. Reilly, Pete Posthelwaite and Dougray Scott all pull off their smaller roles.

The problem lies with the story’s uninteresting plot development, poor writing and end finale that I felt was brought out of nowhere. Unless you are of the faintest heart, you will not find much of the film tense. It mostly boils down to the fact that you lose focus on what’s occurring on screen because you are waiting for something to happen that will launch the plot, but it never does. I wish I could say I brought something out of this movie. I wanted to like this film and kept hoping it would somehow redeem itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t and in the end leaves you feeling far to wishy-washy.
My Ratings: Average/2
—Charles, age 21
Neutral—My boyfriend and I could hardly wait for this movie to come out, since we were such big fans of “The Ring.” On the positive side, he loved it. It was full of suspense and low on gore. I remember only one swear word (although it was a really bad one). The movie also had the eerie atmosphere of “The Ring.” There was also a good lesson about being a responsible parent. On the other hand, I didn’t like it as much as he did. The beginning was good; it slowly built the suspense and kept you on the edge of your seat. But I was amazed when I saw the credits—how could the movie be over when nothing really scary had happened?? There wasn’t a scary climax, not like in “The Ring.” I felt cheated. Almost two hours of suspense building for nothing! Children should not see this movie because it’s way too violent (especially in the bathtub scene near the end). The movie should be fine for anyone older than 13, though. Only… why waste your time with this?
My Ratings: Average/3½
—Dana, age 19
Neutral—…good thing I only paid a matinee price. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this film; the main plot is intriguing, the sidebar story of a custody battle is heart-touching, and Jennifer Connelly’s acting is convincing. But I was bored. I like suspense, but the suspense in this film really led nowhere, so it was a bit of a letdown. I can’t be negative about it, but it’s just not exciting. It’s mediocre. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not good either. The ghost aspect was more confusing than frightening, and I left the theater with a lot of questions about what I’d just seen. Dark water is a film to watch after it comes out on DVD, when it only costs a couple of dollars to rent.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Debbie H, age 23
Neutral—First of all, I enjoy really good horror movies. It’s a film genre that when done right, can express morality issues in a light all of its own. Most first-rate horror flicks need an interesting story set in a familiar yet uncomfortable location, intriguing characters, great sound effects and a surprise ending. (A good musical score also never hurts either) Lastly, the movie must make a significant and challenging statement on morality.

Dark Water possesses some of these elements. The characters are complex and interesting. The setting of the story is bleak and haunting, and the sound effects add that extra needed element of tension in some scenes. However, I found the story to be too methodical and too revealing at times, which allowed the cat out of the bag all too often and ultimately gave away the “surprise” ending. Seasoned, vigilant viewers can unravel this mystery all within the first thirty-minutes or so of the movie. Dark Water, although done better, reminded me too much of “The Ring II.” The theme and basic statement for each movie is eerily similar. Yet Jennifer Connelly is superb. The ensemble of the remaining actors is excellent. There is some profanity in this film.

Some Christians refrain from watching “ghost” stories due to the very nature of the subject. However, not all ghost stories are about the actual “haunting.” Dark Water is such a film that uses this genre as a catalyst to send home its message. And this message can be found in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Dark Water isn’t a complete let down. The film for me just doesn’t completely work. The movie is out on DVD now in a “Director’s Cut” version, which tends to make me feel that the creators of this film must have felt that same way. Rent before buying.
My Ratings: Average / 3½
—Albert Anthony Buonanno III, age 49

Comments from young people
Negative—I went to this movie with a group of friends. Everyone was thoroughly disappointed in it. There was nothing really bad to keep one from watching it, but it just had a bad story. Dark Water was very boring. Although this movie wasn’t scary at all, I would never recommend this to 10 and under.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Courtney Sanders, age 15
Negative—I watched this movie expecting to see a cleverly twisted plot, well timed jump scenes and a happy ending. I was gravely disappointed. The film making quality was mild and not at all impressive. Even the special effects had no effect on me, and I am scared easily. The ghost girl wasn’t at all frightening and the supposed “jump” scene involving the washing machine was a little obvious. You knew she was going to pop up in it. Overall, there was no mention of Christ or heaven in the movie which is sad, considering the ending would have been so much better if the little girl’s spirit had found love in Christ’s arms after the neglect of her mother and father. In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their time or money in seeing this movie. …
My Ratings: Offensive / 1½
—Chelsey, age 14
Movie Critics
…dramatic strengths are hamstrung by its ridiculous obligations to the original…
—Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
…we’re never quite sure how all the parts of the mystery fit together…
—Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
…ultimately fails to reward all the little shivers with any satisfying jolts…
—Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter
…doesn’t exactly float much above mediocrity…
—Lou Lumenick, New York Post