The Drownsman is a beautiful and stylish movie. It has a compelling lead actress in Michelle Mylett. It has a terrifyingly cool villain in Sebastian Donner and it has a script about as complex as a jellyfish.
I fully admit I was taken with The Drownsman quite early. Chad Archibald directs the hell outta the movie. The colors pop and the suspense is masterful. One example is the two worlds the film inhabits. There’s the real world and the world of The Drownsman and both of them look distinct. The boiler room er… the drowning chamber is green, reflective and smokey. When victims are dragged to its depths you can feel the danger and see every water drop. I was incredibly impressed because the movie feels accomplished.
The titular man himself looks spectacular; wet and slimy, silent and menacing. Ry Barrett portrays him as a fully realized modern movie monster. The film’s main conceit of water being the conduit through which the Drownsman can travel is also perfectly realized. There are several tense moments where the Drownsman could pop up anywhere. He is a dark and malevolent spirit with blackened skin and the sight of his black arms reaching for people is chilling. There are a couple scenes that are really well done, one in particular had me cheering.
There’s no question that the film looks great, unfortunately the film is also basically A Nightmare on Water Street. The parallels between The Drownsman and the Dream Master are shocking. I can respect filmmakers being influenced by great films, but this is kinda ridiculous. Everything I just mentioned could also apply to Wes Craven’s great film from the eighties.
That’s not to say it’s a direct rip-off, there are distinct differences. Sebastian Donner (The Drownsman) is a hulking silent figure able to appear suddenly from the dark or from any puddle of water. Unlike Freddy, he doesn’t speak much except to moan like a ghost. It works very well and makes him menacing in a different way. Also, the acting in the film is LEAGUES better than anything Freddy ever faced. Michelle Mylett is very enjoyable as poor traumatized Madison. I also enjoyed her friends as well, shallow as the characters are. But as good as the acting is there’s a certain character that almost mirrors one of Craven’s characters from NOES that gives nearly the same laughable performance. So, the acting is better … mostly.
For me the biggest flaw is the script. Things open with an exciting scene setting up the film’s mythology. Next we meet Madison and Hanna as they are planning for Hanna’s big wedding a year away. Madison has her near drowning experience and encounters the Drownsman. Again, its a very effective and creepy scene. Then we flash A YEAR AHEAD. We skip over a year of Madison’s life in which time she has been seeing and experiencing hauntings from the Drownsman that we never see. We are simply told about them. They are so bad that she skips her best friend’s wedding because it’s RAINING. This is bad. I mean really bad.
In fact it pulled me out of the film. Why on earth did they decide to tell the story this way? There is a huge chunk of the story missing for reasons I can’t really explain. It’s almost as if the movie wants to have certain story beats and doesn’t care how we get to them. All of Madison’s friends keep talking about how traumatized Madison is and this year of time we never get to see. To make matters worse, the film just throws revelations at us. Suddenly the hauntings get worse because of a seance the characters perform. I never understood why this was the case.
A character is introduced midway through the film with major revelations for Madison’s character but it isn’t effective because we don’t know who Madison is. We don’t know anything about her. We don’t know where she lives or who her parents are or her back story. These story hiccups detract from what is otherwise a very accomplished film. The finale is great, the monster is incredible and the directing is entertaining. If you’re willing to overlook the deficiencies in the script, you’ll probably have a great time with The Drownsman
The Drownsman [Review]
Really Fun & Flawed
A great monster and terrific directing almost make up for weak writing.