For apartment dwellers, there can be nothing creepier than some kind of unidentifiable icky substance dripping down from the floor above. You never know what could be going on upstairs, or living in the walls. And that drip, drip, drip brings the murky underground into your life. So to create suspense in a thriller set in a rundown New York apartment building, a filmmaker doesn't have to do much more than cut to shots of the ceiling secreting a brownish ooze into the bedroom.
That's just the start of the chills Brazilian director Walter Salles has up his sleeve in this remake of a Japanese horror movie from the same writer as The Ring. Salles puts this mysterious drip in the apartment of a new arrival who is already teetering on the edge of sanity. Delicate, pale Jennifer Connelly plays Dahlia Williams, a frazzled single mom who is newly separated from her husband and fighting for custody of their six-year-old daughter. Her migraines and history of being abandoned by her own mother don't make things any easier. And the rain just won't let up. It pours in every shot, beating down on windows and rooftops and darkening the entire landscape.
Salles, whose previous Oscar-nominated works include The Motorcycle Diaries and Central Station, is usually a much more subtle director who focuses on human dramas in large, beautiful settings like the Brazilian countryside and the mountains of Argentina. Confined here to a one-bedroom apartment on the small slice of land that houses Roosevelt Island in the East River, he doesn't have much room to operate. He still manages some nice shots, especially of eerie faces reflected in mirrors, glass and under water, but it's nothing compared to his previous work.
He also doesn't have much by way of emotion to deal with except sheer fear, which he modulates in the clichéd horror movie way of announcing each new twist with a pregnant pause and that familiar twang of scary music. The apartment upstairs from Dahlia, it seems, is haunted, and the spirit is trying to connect with her and her daughter in order to be rescued '- a plot viewers of The Ring will find very familiar.
Transplanted to New York, however, this story picks up some special twinges of horror. Forgetting about all the supernatural twists and turns, this is scary enough just as a bad real estate tale. Lured into a deal by a shady building manager (played to smarmy perfection by John C. Reilly), Dahlia is the ultimate sucker tenant who thinks a fresh coat of paint will make everything okay.
When things start to go wrong as soon as she moves in, the creepy super (Pete Postlethwaite) won't do anything about it, saying it's all management's fault. The people upstairs cause a ruckus, and there's nothing anyone can do about that either. It's not until Dahlia gets a lawyer to show up '- in this case an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman as a hustler who works out of his car and appears to be otherwise homeless and officeless '- that there's any movement. And then it turns out that the previous tenants did something awful, and she gets so creeped out she has to move.
These are the real scares that will get people to hide their eyes.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you appreciate your own nice place to live
Stars: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Gary Oldman
Director: Walter Salles
Screenwriters: Koji Suzuki, Rafeal Yglesias
Producers: Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Bill Mechanic
Release date: July 8, 2005 nationwide