Dark Waters Review (1993)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Dark Waters Review (1993)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on July 31st, 2018 | Movie Review | Supernatural, Nunsploitation, Cult, Demon, Thriller

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It’s about a young women who travels to an island to visit a mysterious cult in hopes of learning why her father funded it.

Dark Waters was directed by Mariano Baino  and stars Louise Salter, Venera Simmons  and Mariya Kapnist.

Sometimes, evil lurks where you least expect it.

Dark Waters Rreview

An Historic Artifact...

A word about this film’s back-story: It is the first Western film to be shot in the Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the political strife in the region hampered the production. It is also Italian director Mariano Baino’s only feature-length film, having otherwise worked on short films and as screenwriter and production assistant for Italian TV shows. What we’re seeing here is the output of a troubled production with a side order of meddling executives. There was a trip to Moscow to work on the dubbing, where Baino awakened in the morning to gunfire during coup attempts amid the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993.

It’s a miracle this movie survived. It saw only spotty release until a DVD and later Blu-ray.

Dark Waters is not to be confused with: shark movie Dark Waters (2003), any of the movies called Dark Water (2001, 2002, 2005), or the RPG Risen 2: Dark Waters. Along with this movie’s other handicaps, it also suffers from a generic title.

Scariest Nuns Ever!

Let’s get down to our plot: Elizabeth (Louise Salter) is a young English lady whose mother died in childbirth and whose father recently passed away. She discovers that her father donated money all his life long to benefit a mysterious order of nuns cloistered on a remote island. Curious about this business which he never spoke of, she travels to the island to investigate, perhaps with the intention of carrying on his tradition if she can only find out what he was funding.

It turns out the nuns on this island are pretty tight-lipped about their racket. They appear to exist for the sole purpose of binding an ancient evil in the catacombs under the convent. Their proximity to this evil has warped the ancient nuns into hideous, blind, half-mad hags led by a sighted mother superior (Mariya Kapnist), who tells Elizabeth point blank where she can shove her investigation. It’s too bad the reception is so chilly, because this island is in the middle of nowhere and the ferry only runs once a week.

Elizabeth soon finds an apparent ally in Sarah (Venera Simmons), a woman her age who is appointed to be her usher during her unwelcome stay. Together they prowl the catacombs, libraries, and painting galleries of the island, uncovering clues to Pagan trinkets and ancient demons. Meanwhile the nuns aren’t content to sit back and let this investigation happen under merely passive protest.

Let’s talk about these nuns. The nuns in Dark Waters are self-flagellating fanatics who march around with burning crosses, chant dire choruses in tongues, whisper raspy warnings, and even charge in out of nowhere to attack. They fight like banshees, and aren’t above killing one of their own if they talk to Elizabeth too much. All this happens amid an apocalyptic nunnery and catacombs lit by the fire of thousands of candles and torches, while a thunderstorm rages outside. If it isn’t on fire it’s waterlogged in the rain.

Dues Paid

Director Baino seemed to realize this might be his only feature film, so he made sure to drop as many calling cards to the influences who inspired him as he could cram in. First the story structure resembles The Wicker Man, with a secretive island cult and a mystery to solve. Then with Elizabeth and Sarah scampering out of bed at night to tiptoe around exploring in their nightgowns, it has more than a whisper of The Haunting, with a direct comparison to Eleanor and Theodora. Stylistic flourishes in the film draw comparisons to the works of Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ken Russel.

But the most common reference when critics behold Baino’s work is “ Lovecraft .” Sweet Cthulhu’s tentacled gonads, is this movie ever drunk on Lovecraft! It’s all atmosphere and ancient evils and paintings of tentacled horrors and gibberish chants penned in blood within the pages of crumbling manuscripts that summon ancient ones.

Light Substance, But Pours On The Style

Dark Waters does have a few flaws. It doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense and is especially hard to follow. A lot of the movie is spent in prophetic visions, nightmare sequences, and scampering down corridors lit by torchlight while a thunderstorm blasts along outside without much plot advancement. In short, this movie could have been directed by Rob Zombie and you’d almost never know the difference. It puts the art first and lets logic take a backseat.

Also the ending effects are a letdown. Word is that director Mariano Baino fought tooth and nail against the ending, but executives meddled. Such are the tragedies of our unjust world.

But hey, Rob Zombie is popular for a reason! Dark Waters is an eldritch treat to look at, every frame a painting. It’s packed wall-to-wall with creepy characters, scary scenes, ominous music, and more burning crosses than a Charlottesville rally. Boy, do these nuns love playing with fire! Sometimes out of nowhere a nun will just pass by the door and throw a burning cross right at you all “Here, catch!” While it may not be satisfactory on a story level, it is pulls no punches to put images in front of you that you will not soon forget. That’s all most of us ask of our horror movies.

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