Dark Waters – Blu-ray review
Director: Mariano Baino
Stars: Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Mariya Kapnist
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Nunsploitation meets H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, by way of a low-budget Italian, Russian, and British production. What do you mean you’ve never seen, or even hear of Dark Waters from 1993? Well don’t feel too bad, that can be said of a lot of people, but is there a reason for that? Is this film wisely forgotten, or a hidden gem that richly deserves more attention? Well, grab an umbrella, your galoshes, maybe a rubber ducky, and let’s find out.
Having not a thing in common with the Japanese horror movie, Dark Water, or the inevitable American remake, this movie is about a young girl going to an isolated island convent. She’s there because her father recently died and she just found out that for years he has been founding the monastery. Because this is an Italian horror movie, albeit one shot in the Ukraine, you can bet there are heaps of style here, and that begins in grand style with the movie being dialog-free for a good long while. This choice to tell the story through visuals alone was a risky one, but one that paid off well, and it does get your attention. Anyway, our questioning daughter, Elizabeth, meets the creepy nuns and surprisingly, they begrudgingly allow her to stay at their convent and even grant her access to their ancient library. Well, what could go wrong with that?
In short order, Elizabeth discovers that all is not as it seems at the nunnery. Imagine that. The brides of Christ (maybe?) like to slip into the tunnels beneath the convent to perform weird rituals certainly not found in the Bible. Who or what are they praying to down there? Also what is the strange connection between Elizabeth, the nuns, the convent, and the thing from the dark waters? Yes, there is one, and yes, the explanation is both satisfying and creepy as all hell. Add in weird blind artists and prophecies and you have a horror movie that walks the fine line between the demonic and Lovecraftian, and that always makes me happy.
Now not everything in this film fully succeeds. The acting can be hit or miss at times, and the limits of this movie’s low budget are sometimes painfully obvious. Also there is a measured pace to all the events that, while it worked for me, I could see being called slow by others. But honestly, in the greater scheme of things, such quibbles are small and don’t get in the way of enjoying this moody movie too much.
On to the extras that Severin rounded up for this new Blu-ray release. First there is an audio commentary with writer/director Mariano Baino. Then there is a 10-minute featurette called “Lovecraft Made Me Do It,” detailing Baino’s many influences as a writer and director, including one that is near and dear to me. A second featurette, “Let There Be Water,” that’s just under seven minutes about the watery aspects of this fright flick. “Controlling the Uncontrollable” is just five minutes and is about trying to direct chaos. The last featurette is by far the longest, at 50 minutes, and is a standard, but informative and entertaining making-of short. There is also a director’s intro, a collection of deleted scenes, and a silent blooper reel with audio commentary by director Baino. The last bit of extra goodness here are three short films by Mariano Baino, each with additional commentary, a making-of for one of the shorts, and a music video that Baino also directed.
Dark Waters is a weird little horror film and one that I like a lot. The Lovecraftian elements are slight, used more for flavor than out and out name-droppings and cheap cash-ins. It relies heavily on mood and atmosphere for its chills and more often than not it is successful in being creepy. I jokingly called it “nunsploitation” at the start of this review, but it’s really not. That term usually implies lots or naughty nun nudity, and that’s not what this movie is about. But if you are looking for a horror movie that plays with themes both religious and cosmic, Dark Waters will do that for you. Consider it recommended.