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The Water Man (2020) Review

In the town of Pine Mills, there are legends about a being known as The Water Man. It’s said to live in a lake in the woods and have supernatural powers. When Gunner (Lonnie Chavis, The Boy Behind the Door) hears these tales he thinks they might hold a cure for his mother Mary (Rosario Dawson, Luke Cage, Zombieland: Double Tap) who is suffering from leukemia.

The strain of this has made his father Amos (David Oyelowo, Selma, Don’t Let Go) seem withdrawn from Gunner. With nobody else he feels he can trust, he makes a deal with Jo (Amiah Miller, House By the Lake, Lights Out), a girl who claims to have encountered The Water Man. They set off to find him with the aid of a map provided by a local eccentric (Alfred Molina, Spiderman 2, Wizards). As they search for him, Amos and Sheriff Goodwin (Maria Bello, History of Violence, Demonic) are trying to find them before they fall victim to a wildfire.

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Making their feature-length debuts, director Oyelowo and writer Emma Needell have crafted a film that lies somewhere between the 80s film The Quest and more recent fare like Bridge to Terabithia. There’s also a touch of vintage Spielberg signalled by some ET memorabilia in an early scene. And like them, The Water Man is a family-friendly fantasy adventure. But it has one foot firmly in the real world as well.

Amos, a career military man, must come to grips with his relationship with his son. His issues with displaying affection, or at times any emotion, having distanced them. Something that, as the son of a career naval father, I could relate to. There’s also the issue of Jo and her neglectful/abusive father. While they don’t overwhelm the film’s main plot line, they add a dose of realism that helps ground The Water Man in reality.

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The fantasy aspects are actually, when all is said and done, fairly slight. They’re usually represented with animation that looks like the artwork for the graphic novel Gunner is working on. This gives the viewer the choice to take those elements as real or not, as they see fit. Indeed, the most unbelievable part of The Water Man may be Amos running a police roadblock and not being shot to death.

Gunner and Jo’s adventure manages to stay interesting and exciting, while never really being too scary for most kids. There are the usual outdoor perils one finds in films like this, crossing rapids on an improvised bridge, a swarm of nasty-looking bugs and some poor planning. The fire itself stays somewhat in the background, with the duo unaware of the danger until the last minute. This gives the resolution a rather abrupt feel that was one of the film’s few real missteps.

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Despite a few rough edges, The Water Man is a promising debut behind the camera for Oyelowo. It’s also an enjoyable family film, one that managed to hold even my somewhat less than family-friendly attention. It’s certainly one worth seeing, although whether it’s worth risking a trip to the theatre or waiting for it to come to home video is a personal matter.

RLJE Films will release The Water Man to theatres on May 7th. You can check the film’s website for a list of theatres and cities. You can keep an eye on RLJE’s Facebook page for news of a date for DVD and VOD availability.

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