The Drownsman (2014)
Editor’s Note: The Drownsman has its world premiere August 2, as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information visit fantasiafestival.com and follow Fantasia International Film Festival on Twitter at @FantasiaFest.
Despite the perceived simplicity of the horror genre, it is something that is extremely difficult to get right. It is such a diversified field, so even figuring out the type of horror film you want to be is a struggle. Regardless of its many eccentricities, penchant for sequels, and the latest found footage fad, the core principle of horror is that of fear. We are attracted to these films because they make us feel uneasy, adrenaline coursing through our bodies. The hair on the back of our neck springs to attention as we tremble with anticipation, both dreading and yearning for that thrill of terror. As such, it is the ultimate in disappointment when a horror film fails to deliver on this very base of its genre. The Drownsman is just such a disappointment.
After Madison (Michelle Mylett) slips into a lake and almost drowns, her life becomes consumed with a fear of water. She struggles to cope with her phobia, as the world is filled with her aqueous nemesis. When she fails to show up to her best friend’s wedding, because of a local rainstorm, her circle of friends reaches their breaking point. In hopes of making her see her delusion for what they believe it to be, they stage an intervention/quasi-exorcism. Unfortunately, their intervention does more harm than good and they soon have to face the ultimate nightmarish form of Madison’s fear.
Archibald would love it if you considered him the next coming of Craven, but in his homage/aping of style he forgets to produce his own voice. Instead we are left with nothing more than a mediocre knockoff.
It doesn’t take much to notice that writer-director Chad Archibald is a child of 80s horror. While there are notes of Halloween, and splashes of Friday the 13th, the film’s most obvious older brother is Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, that seems like an appropriate way to describe the two, Nightmare trotting around and impressing his younger brother, while The Drownsman places his fraternal relative on a pedestal of the highest quality. But no younger sibling can experience true success by simply repeating the actions of he who came first. Archibald would love it if you considered him the next coming of Craven, but in his homage/aping of style he forgets to produce his own voice. Instead we are left with nothing more than a mediocre knockoff.
The film’s originality of premise reads initially as a strength, until your brain enters the equation and begins to pick away at its already lean corpse. The fear of water has yet to truly be personified in film, so tackling that seems admirable. Unfortunately writers Archibald and Cody Calahan don’t seem to have put too much thought into it. They attempt to show that there is a way to manage this fear, showing Madison taking fluid intravenously. The explanation is somewhat appreciated, although it then makes the audience question how Madison is able to have hair that remains so flowing and well coifed, because a bath or shower is assuredly a non-starter. You cannot pay reverence to one issue and then forget all the rest. It may have been better to just embrace the unmanageability of the concept, rather than marring yourself in a quagmire of incomplete explanation.
Further complicating the matter is the relative tameness of death by drowning. Where other horror films can indulge in a variety of kill shots, The Drownsman has severely limited itself. The killer largely relies on tanks or tubs of water to dispatch with his victims, and as a result the kills become repetitive and boring fairly rapidly. By the third time you have seen a girl gently writhe balleticly underwater, you grossly hope for something new. Admittedly Archibald does a fantastic job with the underwater scenes, imbuing them with a certain beauty that juxtaposes the grisly deaths nicely. However, a pleasing aesthetic only further saps the film of a modicum of real terror.
The opening segment could survive as a separate, and superior short. In its few moments it creates a more terrifying atmosphere, touching upon the troubling nature of kidnapping, and introducing a villain with just enough vulnerability to be compelling.
There are bits in The Drownsman that speak of a talent behind the camera, but they are shackled to this mess of a film. The opening segment could survive as a separate, and superior short. In its few moments it creates a more terrifying atmosphere, touching upon the troubling nature of kidnapping, and introducing a villain with just enough vulnerability to be compelling. Unfortunately, there is plenty of film that follows. The dialogue is staid and laughably clinical, rather than fresh and authentic, and the cast struggles to deliver it in a manner outside of wooden. The acting is barely serviceable with most of the cast unable to show themselves as actual humans. However, lead Michelle Mylett deftly carries the film, revealing herself as a promising scream queen. The Drownsman is a frustrating horror film, as its moments of success only serve to highlight the mediocrity of the majority of its runtime. It aspires to be mentioned in the same breath as Nightmare on Elm Street, but feels more at home alongside the later Final Destinations.
The Drownsman is a frustrating horror film, as its moments of success only serve to highlight the mediocrity of the majority of its runtime. It aspires to be mentioned in the same breath as Nightmare on Elm Street, but feels more at home alongside the later Final Destinations.