Iíve never made peace with
this film. I admire it, certainly, as itís an extremely skilled, literate mood
piece that (for once) isnít a parody, tribute or outright rip-off of something
else. For all that, though, Iím just not sure DARK WATERS is all that good.
DARK WATERS (1994) was the first feature by the Italian filmmaker Mariano
Baino, who at the time was known for his short films, in particular the
acclaimed 20-minute giallo pastiche CARUNCULA (1990). DARK WATERS was shot in
war-torn Ukraine, and despite favorable reception on the festival circuit (it
won prestigious awards at Montrealís Fantasia and Romeís Fantafestival) received
extremely spotty distribution. Prior to 2006 its only exposure in the US was
via VHS bootlegs and a poorly mastered full-screen DVD release.
Now, though, the film is available on a lovingly
prepared DVD courtesy of No Shame Films. Of the two versions No Shame has put
out, the limited edition box set, which includes a ceramic reproduction of an
amulet that figures in the film and a separate disc containing Bainoís short
films, is the obvious pick. Iím not sure DARK WATERS is entirely worthy of such
effort (I can think of at least a couple dozen more deserving titles), but itís
a must-own for fans.
Elizabeth, a pretty Londoner, is on her way to a forbidding convent located
on a secluded island. She grew up there, though all her memories of the place
have been erased, and now finds that her deceased father has decreed portions of
his fortune be sent to the convent each month. Determined to discover the
reason for these mysterious payments, Elizabeth sets out for the island. Things
go wrong from the start of her journey, on a bus ride in the company of a bunch
of weirdoes and a boat trip through a storm-ridden sea. Upon reaching the
convent she finds its inhabitants, nuns all, to be vague and incommunicative,
and so elects to stay and investigate on her own.
But thereís weirdness afoot. Elizabeth peruses an ancient manuscript with
cryptic references to a creature arising from a ďbottomless pitĒ and causing all
who see it to go blind. She also spies several nuns carrying what looks like a
dead body through the catacombs beneath the convent, and is nearly killed by a
renegade nun in the attic. There Elizabeth spies a strange yet strangely
Memories come flooding back; Elizabeth comes to realize that sheís the
offspring of a hideous monstrosity sheís now supposed to reawaken from its
confinement in the ocean beneath the convent. The nuns, whose behavior has
appeared malevolent, are actually doing their best to keep the creature at bay,
with the help of periodic cash injections from Elizabethís father. Elizabeth
tries to escape, but is ultimately powerless to alter her destiny.
No one can fault Mariano Bainoís skill or ambition here. His visuals are
layered and atmospheric, and his Lovecraftian storyline is related in an
arrestingly impressionistic manner. The art direction, accomplished on and
around forbidding Ukranian locations, is painstaking and eye-catching, and the
film is all the more striking when one considers the ultra-low budget and
perilous shooting conditions.
But it also has an overly studied, artificial look. Cinematographer Alex
Howe overdoes his colorful lighting to the point of excessiveness; itís a bit
like the garish photography of a Dario Argento flick, although in Argentoís
films the tone and content are usually outlandish enough to justify the
overwrought visuals. Not here, though.
Thereís also the problem of the constantly building narrative that peaks
with a frankly cheesy climax involving a tacky monster we barely get a glimpse
of. Itís virtually the only point in the film where the sparseness of the
budget is made evident, but unfortunately itís the very part for which Baino and
his collaborators really should have saved their money!
No Shame Films
Producer: Victor Zuev
Baino, Andrew Bark
Cinematography: Alex Howe
Editing: Mariano Baino, Rick Littler
Cast: Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Maria Rapinist, Valeri Bassel, Mariya
Capnist, Anna Rose Phipps, Pavel Sokolov