Fantasia 2014 Review: THE DROWNSMAN, The Super Soaker Terror Gets Too Silly At Times
Madison has a fear of water. A year ago she had an accident and nearly drowned. When she was under, she was pulled into the lair of The Drownsman. Since then she will not go near water. She even misses the wedding of her bestie, Hannah, because it was raining that day. Her friends have had enough and they plan an intervention the next day. Screw the honeymoon!
With the help of another friend who dabbles in the spiritual world, they attempt to make contact with whatever is terrorizing Madison. Turns out she made contact with Sebastian Donner, aka the Drownsman. Donner was a serial killer who would drown his victims and listen to their heartbeats as they died. Madison must solve the mystery of why the Drownsman is after her and her friends. Because once contact has been made, there may be nothing to stop him from taking them all to a watery grave.
There is a lot to appreciate with one of Chad Archibald's latest films (he has two films at Fantasia this year). For one, there is that old-school stalker killer vibe that he tries to emulate here, and it works for the most part. One by one, the girls are picked off by the Drownsman. The first kill is probably the most akin to the slasher films of yore that Archibald was paying homage to in his film. It was some real Nightmare of Elm Street stuff there. The second one is not so bad, either, from the capture to when the Drownsman kills the second victim in his lair. Things get a little tepid after that, though.
The Drownsman's lair looks great on screen, and lighting against the steam rising off the girls' bodies makes for some terrific visuals, in a totally creepy, but not staring at wet young girls creepy kind of way. Although it is never explained why Sebastian Donner transforms into the grotesque Drownsman, the makeup effects are cool. Canadian "Man of Horror," Ry Barrett, plays the super soaker terror, but has little to do other than moan a couple of names, then get clingy. But credit is due, because he has to do a number of water stunts with makeup and costume on, which I guarantee is heavier than Madison's cashmere sweater. Credit is also due to all five actresses who had to endure the various water traps on set.
Everything is as practical as possible. I have to follow up with Archibald about this, but when we spoke about this film on the set back in the fall, the goal was to use as much practical effects (i.e. spill a little water here and there) when possible and try to minimize the number of special effects. So the film has to be awfully presumptive that water can just appear out of anywhere, as we will see later on. But for the first little while, everything remains fairly grounded and one can assume that the Drownsman can force his way through anything, even if it means turning on all the taps or causing refrigerators to defrost in an instant.
The film takes a detour when Madison and the remaining friends go to the local psych ward to visit the only living survivor, Isabelle. It takes a preposterous turn when the staff allows the girls to see her, but they are asked twice if they are carrying anything flammable. Turns out, Isabelle likes to set fires to ward off the Drownsman. But heck, seeing visitors might be good for her, one of the staff reasons. Sure. Have at it. Then, on the elevator ride down, it starts to flood. The elevator. Twelve floors above ground. Starts to flood. From the roof. And his royal soppiness shows up and takes another victim. From the elevator. In the air. Up until this point all the water related activities have been great, allowing for some suspension of disbelief. However, the cables holding up my disbelief snapped right here.
The film tries to right itself as Madison heads to the old home of the Drownsman (the one place that Isabelle did not set on fire) so she can find his lair. There she will confront him and hopefully kill him, ending his reign of terror (about 48 hours). Of course, as stalker slasher films go, she will defeat the Drownsman in the end. But does she really?
Archibald's horror films started off great, and I think he succeeded in his homage to great stalker films from back in the day. For me, though, it succumbed to a bout of soaking silliness before the final act. Like a biscuit held for too long in a cup of tea, eventually we were going to lose a chunk of momentum. It made a valiant effort to bring itself around with strong visuals and a decent villain kill. It did not fully recover for me, but I still enjoyed the ride for the 'moist' part.
The Drownsman had its World Premiere early on Saturday, August 1. The review came compliments of a screener provided by the director as my time at the fest had already passed.