A boy living in a new town with his parents is desperate to find a way to save his sick mother. With the help of a local girl, he sets out on a quest to find a mythic figure who is said to know how to cheat death.
The Water Man is the feature-film directorial debut of Daniel Oyelowo, better known for his acting roles in films such as Selma and Don’t Let Go. Also the feature-film debut of writer Emily A. Needell, the film follows a boy named Gunner. Living in a new town, Gunner is a bit of a loner who spends most of his time reading or drawing his own graphic novel. His only real friend is his mom, who is very sick. When he hears rumors about a local legend knows as “The Water Man,” he enlists the help of a local girl to find this figure to save his mom’s life. The past decade has introduced a lot of films showing urban legends with similar names such as Slender Man and The Bye Bye Man. What makes The Water Man different is that he not only isn’t necessarily a figure to fear, but he is also not the antagonist or even the primary focus of the film. Instead, the legend of this figure acts more as the catalyst for Gunner’s adventure and as a representation for ways people deal with loss.
This film mixes many different genres including drama, fantasy, and even a bit of horror. It takes a very emotionally driven plot and incorporates more fantastical elements to emphasize the stakes. It also shows the world through a child’s eyes as he is forced to deal with very grown up things he isn’t ready to process. It is almost akin to Bridge to Terabithia, yet The Water Man takes a more grounded approach to some similar themes. The resulting film is as tension-filled and affecting as it is fantastical and stunning. It is the type of film that can be enjoyed by adults and younger viewers alike.
The Water Man has a star-studded cast, as well as some talented newcomers, all of whom deliver wonderful performances. Lonnie Chavis (This Is Us, Magic Shop) stars as Gunner. Chavis carries the weight of the film on his shoulders, and he does it exceedingly well. Gunner is such a sweet, introverted boy that many viewers will likely see themselves in him. His emotional journey is so powerful and Chavis makes sure the audience goes right along for the ride. Amiah Miller (War for the Planet of the Apes, Lights Out) plays Jo, the local outsider who helps Gunner. Miller excels at making Jo seem like a hardened kid, but her performance really shines as Jo’s walls are broken down and we see the sensitive person underneath. Other great performances come from Daniel Oyelowo himself, Rosario Dawson (Death Proof), Alfred Molina (Promising Young Woman), and Maria Bello (Lights Out).
To match the fantastical elements of The Water Man, there are some stunning visuals throughout the film. The filmmakers opted to use both practical and CGI effects to create striking imagery. While all of these effects are incredibly well done, the visual moments that stand out involve artwork. Specifically, we see Gunner’s graphic novel drawings come to life and sometimes we even get to see what’s in his imagination in the same format as his drawings. It’s not only gorgeous to look at, but it also creates a clear divide between Gunner’s reality and the fictional world in his mind. All of the visuals add mysticism and magic to an otherwise down-to-earth film.
The Water Man takes a gorgeous look into the often heartbreaking journey of growing up. This is a powerful debut for Oyelowo as director and Needell as writer. Together they created an endearing story that tackles a lot of emotions and issues kids often deal with and don’t necessarily know how to process. The performances from the entire cast are great, but Chavis and Miller truly shine and drive the plot by making the audience care for their characters. There is drama, there is heartbreak, there is terror, and there is beauty in the film. The Water Man is not just a wonderful film, it’s a great genre-bending story that can appeal to virtually all ages.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10