Jennifer Connelly Plumbs Depths Of Fear In ‘Dark Water’

Remake of Japanese horror film has actress, colleagues thinking scary thoughts.

The scenario will sound immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to find a cheap apartment in a big city. You scour the classifieds, call in favors from friends and scan Craigslist every 15 minutes.

Ultimately, however, you end up in a neighborhood you’ve never heard of, in a building whose best days were decades ago, in an apartment that has … well, let’s call them quirks. Funny noises. Plumbing problems. Stuff like that.

For most of us, the anxiety stops there. We either deal with it, complain until the super does something, or move out and look for another place. It’s urban living. What are you gonna do?

For single mom Dahlia, however — Jennifer Connelly’s character in the upcoming Japanese-horror remake “Dark Water” — such ordinary options fly out the cracked tenement windows when she and her daughter move into a new apartment and, as the title suggests, end up confronting not only weirdo neighbors and everyday tenant-landlord issues, but also buckets, torrents and waterfalls of murky aitch-two-oh. Welcome to Hollywood’s latest take on the haunted house: the apartment that doubles as a bone-chillingly creepy indoor pond.

For Connelly, an actress who has never shied away from emotionally intense roles (in “Waking the Dead,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “Requiem for a Dream” and others), the appeal of doing a horror movie has as much to do with tapping into and evoking primal emotions as it does with working from a smart script with a subtle director and strong cast.

“It’s really strange,” she said with a bemused grin when asked what it is about fear that compels people to pay money to sit in the dark and have the bejesus scared out of them. “It has something to do with being powerless and not in control, I suppose. It’s almost like regressing to a sort of childhood state — and yet when it’s all over, you can still walk out, and you’re still the grownup. The sun still comes out. Everything’s OK and it was all just make-believe.”

She continued after a brief pause, again grinning — but this time, it seems, grinning mostly at herself.

“Maybe,” she said, qualifying everything she’d said just a moment before. “I’m not a shrink.”

John C. Reilly, who plays the apartment building’s hulking, way-too-friendly janitor, finds the fear factor in movies something that can be attributed to both deep human needs and current affairs.

“I suppose it’s the same reason people want to laugh or cry,” he said of fright’s allure. “It’s just one of those things that people want to experience — some emotional jolt. It’s part of the contract with emotional entertainment, and I think that right now it’s a little bit safer to go into a movie theater and know you’re going to be scared than to watch the news, waiting for the next terrifying real thing that comes along. I don’t know — but man, scary movies are really big right now, aren’t they?”

As for any concerns that might have arisen among the cast and crew upon embarking on a remake — director Hideo Nakata’s 2002 original, “Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara,” is an acknowledged horror classic — they were quickly washed away by the formidable pairing of director Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (“Fearless,” “From Hell”).

“I think [remakes] can sometimes really be bastardized,” Connelly admitted. “You can take something that’s great and sort of make a worse version of it. But I felt confident that Walter Salles wasn’t going to do that with this film, because everyone who got involved really liked the original. We’re all really respectful of it. And he and Rafael didn’t just translate it; they sort of adapted it for a Western audience. There’s more character development. You have more fleshed-out characters — John C. Reilly’s character, and Tim Roth [as Dahlia's lawyer]. You also get more of Dahlia’s history with her own mother, and more of an abstract kind of ghost story.”

For his part, Roth — a veteran stage actor who has appeared in more than 40 films, in roles ranging from a crazed skinhead to a Shakespearean clown — appreciates the technique and the commitment involved in bringing authentic horror to the screen. But when it comes right down to it, as so many actors will attest, there’s another genre that never fails to terrify even those who have the guts to attempt it.

“Comedy is the hardest thing to do,” he said. “If you’re doing it in front of an audience, you find out pretty fast if you’re funny or not. But if you’re doing it on film, the fact that the crew or director may be laughing doesn’t mean a thing. It’s one of the scariest things because you don’t know, you really don’t know, if you’re funny or not.”

For Jennifer Connelly, the difference between comedy and drama — while definitely real — pales beside what actors and actresses can both convey and learn while working with colleagues and material as solid as those she found in “Dark Water.”

“I’m interested in helping to tell these stories because I find them interesting or thought-provoking or they have an emotional impact on me,” she said. “I feel passionate about being involved in their telling. And of course you learn things about yourself in the telling as well. Sometimes it happens after the fact, when you realize what you needed to go through — and that sort of thing, in retrospect, dictates our taste, I suppose. It’s like when your body needs something: all of the sudden, for some reason, you just need to have sugar.”

Sugar. Water. Good old-fashioned horror. Whatever works, Jennifer. Whatever works.

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