Home > Reviews > DARK WATER – Angelo Badalamenti

DARK WATER – Angelo Badalamenti

darkwaterOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A remake of the 2002 Japanese film Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara, which was directed by Hideo Nakata, Dark Water is a slow-burning horror movie which takes everyday circumstances and mixes them with a healthy dose of the supernatural, with chilling results. Jennifer Connelly stars as Dahlia, a young mother who moves into a run down apartment block with her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) while her divorce is being finalized. Before long, strange events are happening in their new home. Water begins to drip from the ceiling, much to the consternation of the building’s superintendent (Pete Postlethwaite); footsteps are heard coming from the vacant apartment above; a strangely sinister red bag keeps turning up in odd places; ghostly images appear on the CCTV camera footage from inside the apartment’s lift; and, worst of all, Ceci keeps having fleeting glimpses of a child in a yellow raincoat, who seems to bear a remarkable similarity to a little girl who went missing years previously. Is the stress of her life causing Dahlia to slowly go insane, as her ex-husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) believes? Or is some specter haunting her…

As the latest in a long line of American remakes of Japanese horror movies, Dark Water may find itself suffering as a result of the success of The Ring and The Grudge, despite its high-profile cast and talented director in the shape of Brazilian Walter Salles. While Dark Water is certainly nowhere near as viscerally shattering as its predecessors, it still cranks up a great deal of tension, building ever-so-slowly to a truly remarkable finale. There are lots of recurring themes and touchstones in Dark Water that can be traced back to Japanese novelist Koji Suzuki, who also penned the original Ring – urban legends translated into reality, dysfunctional family units, female central characters, the nature of parent/sibling relationships, fear of abandonment, shots of little girls with long black hair, the use of water as a marker for malevolence, and so on and so forth – many of which may strike viewers unfamiliar with the heritage of the film as merely lazy copies of other films. However, in reality, Dark Water is another example of how Japanese sensibilities in film making are making Hollywood horror movies much more interesting and unnerving: dispelling with the blood and guts, and ratcheting up the tension and uncertainty to almost unbearable levels.

For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, I find myself looking forward to each new Angelo Badalamenti score, possibly due to my unending optimism that the next one will be the one where he finally shows the world the orchestral talent I believe him to have. Despite being someone who often finds synthesized music difficult to enjoy, I will readily admit that Badalamenti is one of the rare exceptions. His score for The Straight Story from 1999 is one of the finest electronic scores I have ever heard, and his seminal work on Twin Peaks has become a pop culture touchstone. Similarly, his more conventional efforts such as The Beach and last year’s A Very Long Engagement were on the whole impressive. However, in the midst of all this positivity, Badalamenti still manages to disappoint me with alarming regularity – such is the case with Dark Water.

To call Badalamenti’s music for Dark Water “subtle” would be an understatement. For significant periods, his music creeps along doing little more than add appropriate atmospheric tension. For the most part, Dark Water is significantly lacking a theme, and although there are a number of recurring motifs (notably a rumbling string figure for cellos) and one or two interesting instrumental timbres dotted here and there, during the majority of the middle of the album – from “Drip Stain” right through to “Hello Again Kitty” – very little happens other than cue after cue of simple string lines, synth underlays, eerie glass harmonicas, and an occasional stinger to wake the listener out of the music-induced stupor. It drags terribly.

The most interesting music actually occurs at the beginning of the album and during the finale, book-ending the boredom. Badalamenti is not a composer known for his action music or his love themes, but towards the end of the score he lets his orchestra rise to the occasion more than once. It is during these moments that, for brief periods, Dark Water finally becomes a great deal more than an insomnia cure. “Seattle 1974”, the opening cue, ushers the listener in with an appealingly moody opening and a first presentation of the main thematic idea, which is then elaborated upon significantly in “The Tram (Main Title)”. The first action cue, “Ceci Wanders”, is an unexpectedly insistent percussion-led affair with an intriguing undulating string figure and all manner of nervous rattling.

At the other end of the album, “The Sacrifice” is exciting and urgent, with a more lively string ostinato driving the tempo, while the unexpectedly attractive “Final Elevator” introduces some welcome thematic content with a tender acoustic guitar solo offset by a subdued, gently romantic orchestral wash. The “End Credits” recapitulate the material heard at during the main titles, this time with a resolutely optimistic tone, resulting in a surprisingly engaging and moving cue which almost – almost – rescues what has gone before it.

One could hypothesize that Badalamenti intentionally followed the musical path set down for him by his predecessor on the Japanese Dark Water, Kenji Kawai, whose music tends to be of the droning synth variety, albeit with the addition of an inappropriately flowery theme from time to time. If this is the case, then Badalamenti is to be congratulated for maintaining the stylistic integrity of the project and the story from its Eastern roots; the only problem is that, unfortunately, that style of music does not make for an especially enjoyable listening experience. Whereas other composers have recently lifted the bar where thriller and suspense scores are concerned, Dark Water falls squarely into the camp of “been there, done that”.

It took quite a while for me to write this review because, although ironically I have now managed to string together over 1000 words, as I repeatedly listened to the score, I found I had less and less to say about it. In many ways, scores like these are the most difficult to review because they are so middling: not great, but not bad; a few nice cues, but nothing inspiring; generally undemanding and pleasant to listen to. Having very little to say about a score one way or the other is possibly the most damning indictment of all, and Dark Water is simply that: generally inconsequential, occasionally interesting, but predominantly tedious.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Seattle, 1974 (1:31)
  • The Tram (Main Title) (2:13)
  • Ceci Wanders (2:51)
  • The Drip Stain (3:23)
  • Flotsam (1:46)
  • Deluge in 10F (3:12)
  • Mom from Hell (2:25)
  • A Ghost in the Machine (3:58)
  • New Nightmare (3:40)
  • Hello Again Kitty (1:47)
  • The Water Tower (2:37)
  • The Sacrifice (3:56)
  • Final Elevator (2:34)
  • End Credits (5:57)

Running Time: 41 minutes 50 seconds

Hollywood 2061-62492-2 (2005)

Music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Conducted by Phil Marshall. Orchestrations by Phil Marshall and Angelo Badalamenti. Additional music by Phil Marshall. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Album produced by Angelo Badalamenti.

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