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You can describe Jennifer Connelly’s new movie, "Dark Water," as a psychological thriller, a tale of urban isolation or even a parable of maternal love - just don’t call it a "horror movie."

The Oscar-winning actress and long-time Brooklyn resident - Connelly grew up in Brooklyn Heights and now lives in Park Slope with husband and actor Paul Bettany and their two sons - takes umbrage with those who would lump her intelligent new nail-biter in with the derivative hack ’em up flicks that clutter the "horror" sections of video stores.

"I’m reluctant to call it a horror film," Connelly told reporters in Manhattan Tuesday. "It’s more of a psychological thriller - a ghost story. To me, I associate horror film with more gore - slasher films. There’s no blood here. You get through lots of the film and no one’s died."

Based on a spine-tingling novella by "The Ring" author Koji Suzuki and directed by "The Motorcycle Diaries" auteur Walter Salles, "Dark Water" is about Dahlia (Connelly), a young mother who moves to a rundown building on Roosevelt Island to start a new life with her 6-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) after the breakup of her marriage.

Damaged by her own abusive parents, crippled by migraines and depressed by the loss of the man she once loved (Dougray Scott), Dahlia is further troubled by a persistent leak in her apartment ceiling, which she suspects is somehow linked to the disappearance of a young upstairs tenant and the arrival of her daughter’s frightening new imaginary friend.

"Pulp Fiction" alum Tim Roth plays Dahlia’s divorce lawyer, a complex man who helps her determine whether she is hallucinating, is being set up by her ex-husband to think she is losing her mind or is actually the victim of menacing ghosts. "Chicago" star John C. Reilly offers comic relief as the fast-talking slumlord who rents her the possibly haunted apartment.

The 35-year-old actress, who lives with Bettany and sons Kai and Stellan in a Prospect Park West townhouse, said she thinks it is her character’s relationship with her daughter and her willingness to do anything to save her that gives the film a depth not often found in today’s scary movies.

"I think it’s really poignant, and I think that’s what’s special about it," she noted. "It’s really moving. I think it is a really sophisticated story this is the only place she has found safety in the world is in her small family and she feels betrayed and let down again."

She expects moviegoers of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy "Dark Water," but predicted the film will pack an extra wallop for parents.

"I think it will have a real resonance with parents, because I think it is something that a lot of parents go through," she said. "People have asked me, ’Do you think this character is really crazy?’ I really don’t. I think this character is really broken. I think this character is amazingly resilient and strong given where she has come from.

"And I think parents the world over struggle with, sort of, the ghosts from their own childhood and how that, despite their best intentions, sometimes, affects how they are with their children in turn," Connelly added. "I think it’s a film that can be appreciated by parents and non-parents alike. I think parents will find that quite chilling."

The stunning former model, who attended St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, began her career at age 10 in commercials and print ads, making her big-screen debut in Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster epic, "Once Upon A Time in America," when she was 14. That same year, she also appeared on the British TV series, "Tales of the Unexpected" with starring roles in Dario Argento’s thriller "Phenomena" and Jim Henson’s fantasy "Labyrinth" coming shortly after.

Although she appeared in a few movies such as "Career Opportunities" and "The Rocketeer" during the early- to mid-1990s, Connelly spent most of this time studying at Yale and Stanford universities. She returned to full-time acting in 1996 with a part in "Mulholland Falls," which she followed up with a string of acclaimed performances in films like "Inventing the Abbotts," "Waking the Dead," "Requiem for a Dream" and "Pollock."

She won the Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2002 for her portrayal of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.’s wife in Ron Howard’s drama, "A Beautiful Mind."

Acknowledging that many of her roles have been in disturbing, edgy or noir-ish films, Connelly said she is happy to explore her dark side through the problems of fictional characters, then leave all that gritty stuff at work at the end of the day.

"It’s nice to let it be someone else’s baggage," she revealed. "You know what really gets under my skin is if I’m working on a project that I’m not happy with. That’s torture for me and, unfortunately, I must admit, I make it torture for everyone around me because it makes me miserable.

"But I was really happy to work on ’Dark Water.’ It was one of my favorite films to work on because it was just a great working relationship with Walter, the director. I don’t feel like I’m faking it when I’m doing a scene and when we’re done and if we’ve got it, then I’m done and I’m not her any more."

Of course, she confessed, her home life with her husband and boys does a lot to keep her grounded in reality.

"I was one of those kids who wanted to be a mom from when I was little," she recalled. "I used to go to the playground and I’d ask the moms if I could watch after their kids when I was a kid. So I was looking for something. Motherhood has been amazing for me. I think I became more passionate about everything."

Living in Brooklyn has also offered her a bit of anonymity, she said, meaning she can enjoy something of a normal life, without being hounded by paparazzi and fans everywhere she goes.

"There’s a huge difference between living in L.A. and New York," she reasoned. "I haven’t lived in L.A., but just when I’m there, I’m working Even though we all know there’s a lot that goes on in Los Angeles, it still feels like a mono-industrial town. So, wherever you go, there are people who are in the movie business or want to be in the movie business, so people tend to look for it more. Whereas, I think, there’s so much going on in New York they don’t necessarily expect to see - they’re not on the lookout for - [actors], so I think you blend in a lot more.

"And Brooklyn is one more step. No one cares."

 

"Dark Water," starring Jennifer Connelly, opens nationwide July 8.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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