Hideo Nakata's original Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara) hasn't quite got the classic status of his earlier chiller Ring, but for my money it's just as scary and a more human, moving story. Both are based on novels by cult writer Koji Suzuki, who is known as Japan's Stephen King, and both pick on a single mother divorcee as a heroine/victim. In Dark Water, Yoshimi is more vulnerable and in a sense more implicated in the horror than the intrepid journalist in Ring, moving into a new, cheap apartment with her young daughter after separating from her husband, she's haunted by memories of her abandonment by her own mother, and in no fit state to protect her kid when Ikuko starts playing with a little girl who isn't there.
You wouldn't expect the inevitable American remake to come from a director like Walter Salles, the Brazilian who made Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries: cosmopolitan (the son of a diplomat) he's not exactly your average schlockmeister. But Salles clearly appreciated the qualities that distinguished Nakata's film, which is clammy, atmospheric and bloody terrifying, frankly, but also an anguished portrait of urban isolation, splintered families and cowboy plumbing.
The remake sticks very close to the Japanese original, right down to the festering dark stain on the ceiling which functions as a symbol both for the break down of the family, and as a time portal linking traumas past and present. Now it's Jennifer Connelly - Dahlia - who is trying to maintain her relationship with her daughter while her own life is falling apart. But the plumbing is just as bad in New York as it was in Tokyo.
Salles and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias throw in a few new red herrings (the teenage boys running wild on the floor above; Pete Postlethwaite's suspiciously accented concierge) and don't make quite as much of that Miffy backpack, but the changes are subtle and not unintelligent. Only the climax is substantially different. Where the original went all out to scare the pants off you, and arguably sacrificed some coherence in the process, the American film is neater, and bit anti-climactic.
Still, at least for the first hour this clammy psychological horror film echoes the nailbiting drip drip effect of Polanksi's Repulsion as it plumbs common fears of separation and solitude. A fine actress, Connelly works up a tangible bond between her and her daughter (Ariel Gade), which gives the film more humanity than you'd expect. Tim Roth is in good form too as the world's best bargain divorce lawyer. Dark Water never quite opens the floodgates, but it might just snag you with its deep, tragic undercurrents.