Remember your first apartment? The one with cracking plaster, extensive water damage, 500-year-old linoleum, everything covered in a film of pale green?
In “Dark Water,” a remake of a 2002 Japanese thriller, the lovely Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) lives in that apartment with her daughter and — wouldn’t you know it? — creepy things happen there.
The digs are on Roosevelt Island, a tram ride away from civilization — that is, Manhattan. As John C. Reilly, playing a cheap-suited slumlord with customary ease, notes early on, “Dark Water’s” locale is a tangle of buildings built in the architectural style of a utopian lunacy known as brutalism, which emphasized function over the needs of the soul. Just looking at these blocky beasts — cinematographer Affonso Beato always shoots them in gray, rainy light — is enough to crush your spirit.
Dahlia (Miss Connelly) and young Ceci (Ariel Gade) move there to escape the blows of a custody dispute. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband (Dougray Scott) is moving in the opposite direction, to Jersey City, N.J., with, she suspects, a girlfriend. It’s implied that Dahlia had been an at-home mom so the grimy Roosevelt Island tenement is the only thing she can afford on her own.
But before we actually land on Roosevelt Island, we’re in Seattle for a grainy flashback of Dahlia’s childhood. Dahlia’s mother, we learn, was a real princess: late picking up her daughter from school — a habitual problem — and angry for no good reason.
Right away, you think: Dahlia has been irrevocably scarred, and “Dark Water,” like so many recent thrillers, is going to turn on the uncertainty of whether the protagonist is crazy.
Sure enough, the movie rides that seesaw. Miss Connelly does a fine job of conveying the quiet exertions of a tortured soul and nearly rescues the movie from its hackneyed psychological guessing game.
But that’s not the main problem with “Dark Water.” The main problem is that it’s not scary. The tenement has an elevator with a mind of its own; it closes unexpectedly. Yawn. There’s also a building manager named Veeck (wonderfully eccentric Pete Postlethwaite), who is, at worst, a dirty old man. Finally, there are a couple of menacing skate punks, but director Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias quickly forget about them.
As for the supernatural scary stuff, it’s weak sauce. The pipes in Dahlia’s hovel cough up hair and water the color of the East River. She has migraines that bring on ugly hallucinations of mean Mama. And there’s a leak in the ceiling that’s supposed to be the seat of some ethereal presence, like the boiler in Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
Oh, and adorable Ceci has an imaginary friend who may or may not be the ghost of a former resident. It whispers. It sings “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.
Didn’t I just see this in “Hide and Seek,” that overhyped January thriller with Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning? Same premise: Single parent moves child from familiar environment. Child adjusts badly. Horror ensues. Or is supposed to ensue.
Mr. Salles should have made a documentary about brutalism. That would’ve been far more frightening.
TITLE: “Dark Water”
RATING: PG-13 (Mature thematic material, frightening sequences, brief profanity).
CREDITS: Directed by Walter Salles. Produced by Doug Davison, Roy Lee and Bill Mechanic. Written by Rafael Yglesias, based on a novel by Koji Suzuki and screenplay by Hideo Nakata and Takashige Ichise.
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes.
WEB SITE: www.darkwatermovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS