When it comes to celebrating the festive season, many people forget that Christmas is traditionally associated with the telling of ghost stories. Happily the team at the Cameo Cinema haven’t missed the opportunity, scheduling a short season of supernatural tales, under the title of A Warning To The Curious; and for me, the unmissable event this year was a showing of Hideo Nakata’s 2002 ghost story, Dark Water. Nakata is, of course, better known for his Ring films, but for my money, this is his masterpiece – a deceptively simple ghost story that exerts an incredibly powerful grip on the viewer.
Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) is a young woman going through a messy divorce from her overbearing husband whilst desperately trying to hold on to custody of their six year old daughter, Ikuko (an adorable performance from Rio Kanno). Badly in need of a home for them to share, Yoshimi rashly accepts the lease on a dilapidated riverside apartment and enroles Ikuko at the local kindergarten. But from the moment mother and daughter arrive, things start to go awry – a huge stain appears on the bedroom ceiling and begins to leak water, Ikuko has an unsettling experience at the kindergarten and a mysterious red shoulder bag keeps turning up in the strangest places. Meanwhile, torrential rain falls on an almost daily basis, making even the simplest journey intolerable. Bit by bit, Yoshimi begins to pick up information about the mysterious disappearance of a little girl, one year earlier – a girl called Mitsuko who lived in the apartment on the floor above Yoshimi and her daughter.
More subtle than the Ring movies, here is Nakata proving what every would-be horror director would do well to remind themselves; what we only glimpse is far more affecting than what we see in perfect detail. Nakata racks up the suspense with great skill, scene-by-scene, creating an atmosphere of steadily mounting dread, until events finally hurtle headlong into a terrifying conclusion – and then, just when we think it’s all over, there’s a heartbreaking coda which takes place ten years after the main events of the movie, in which a teenage Ikuko finally learns the truth about what happened to her mother…
Of course, I cannot urge you to go and see this 2002 movie on the big screen, because showings are rare, but it’s widely available on DVD and download, and is intimate enough to come across well as a home movie. (It received the almost obligatory American remake in 2005, but that was a misfire – make sure you seek out the original).
Meanwhile, the Warning To The Curious season continues at the Cameo tonight (December 21st) with a double bill of The Signalman and Whistle and I’ll Come To You. Be there, be scared. After all, isn’t this what Christmas is really about?