Following a messy divorce, a mother and her young daughter are forced to move into a squalid, low-rent apartment. Dank, dark and thoroughly depressing, their new abode offers the pair little comfort from a growing set of worries. Enveloped in custody proceedings and re-adapting to single status, the woman struggles to balance caring for her child with the arduous task of finding a new job. Her daughter, meanwhile, has to suffer the trauma of enrolling in a new school. Both are left in a vulnerable situation, making the appearance of a raft of ghostly visions and peculiar noises in their apartment block all the more distressing.
Rather like Roman Polanski's "Repulsion," "Dark Water" is a particularly domestic terror--one that relies as much on the menacing spread of damp across a ceiling as any number of bumps in the night. An expert of unsettling minutiae, Nakata is more concerned with sending chills down the spine than making you jump out of your seat. He creates horror through using either the most ethereal of sources (a shadow on the wall, a half-sighting in the rain) or the most seemingly inane (a children's bag, a crayon drawing).
Like veteran Japanese stylist Kinji Fukasaku, whose celebrated Yakuza movies doubled up as perceptive critiques of modern-day society, Nakata works within the trappings of an established genre in order to pass strict judgment on human failings. Subsequently, his horror film is as much an indictment of parental neglect as a thrilling hair-raiser. This dual design ensures that "Dark Water's" masterly denouement is both exceedingly creepy and staggeringly poignant. Starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi and Asami Mizukawa. Directed by Hideo Nakata. Written by Yoshihiro Nakamura and Ken-Ichi Suzuki. Produced by Taka Ichise. Japanese-language; subtitled. No distributor set. Horror. Not yet rated. Running time: 99 min.