Writer: Emma A. Needell
Director: David Oyelowo
Starring: Lonnie Chavis, Rosario Dawson, David Oyelowo and Amiah Miller
Originally released in 2020 The Water Man may have gone under the radar but now it has been released onto Netflix. What looks like a simple film about a boy trying to see if the myth of the Water Man is true, ends up being quite an emotional film with real impact. It deals with some quite sensitive subjects and all told through a child’s eyes. This is Gunner Boone’s story.
DAVID OYELOWO NOT ONLY STARS BUT THE WATER MAN IS HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!
The Water Man is David Oyelowo’s directorial debut, with the screenplay by Emily A. Needell. This film focuses on 11-year-old Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) who lives in his head. He is a keen reader and drawer; he is seen working on his own graphic novel about a detective investigating his own death. Gunner and his family have just moved to a new town due to his mother’s illness.
Gunner’s mother Mary (Rosario Dawson) has leukaemia and his father Amos (David Oyelowo) was in the Marines. Right from the start, it is clear to see that Gunner and Mary have a very close relationship, while there is a distance between Gunner and Amos which is probably due to Amos having spending long periods of time away from home. Now that Mary is ill, everything in Gunner’s world has changed, he can tell that his mother is really ill and he feels as if he is the only one that has hope that she will get better. Gunner and Amos clash but that’s due to both struggling to deal with what is happening to Mary. Straight away it is clear that this film is going to deal with a difficult subject. Cancer is scary for everyone but this film is showing us how a child is trying to cope with it and how a father is just trying to do what is right.
WHO IS THE WATER MAN? IS THE MYTH REAL?
We first hear of the Water Man from Jo (Amiah Miller), a blue-haired girl who claims to have met the Water Man and has a scar on her neck to prove it. The story of the Water Man claims a man found a special stone, and one night his entire town was washed away by a dam breaking unexpectedly. Everyone was claimed dead, except he survived. He has now spent every day looking through the river and forest to find his wife, Sarah. Not only does the stone keep him alive but it brings those back to the dead. The Water Man holds the key to immortality, which for Gunner sounds like the perfect person to help his mum. This is such a normal reaction of a child who hears a story that gives them hope that they can defeat what is happening. Yet it is also another distraction technique to avoid seeing what is happening to Mary. As the film goes on, we watch Mary get sicker and sicker and for Gunner it is clear that this is hard to watch as it would be for anyone.
Gunner full of hope goes on a quest to find the Water Man with Jo. The forest is full of unexplainable events which makes you believe there is something supernatural around. At times this film is quite scary, in particular, the first night scene in the forest is extremely intense as we keep seeing a figure walking circles around Gunner, along with strange noises and howling. It is an intense scene because you feel like something is going to jump out of the bushes at any moment.
THE WATER MAN IS ABOUT FAMILY
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Gunner and Jo are quite the duo; they are constantly bickering but as the stakes rise, they seem to bond. It’s nice to see how this friendship forms as these two by the end care about one another. The plot is quite straight forward but it is the performances that really sells this film. There is a lot of emotion throughout the film. Gunner doesn’t have an easy life with his mother being ill but Jo is also hiding secrets about her own family, especially concerning her dad. All the leads put on phenomenal performances and we really sympathise with them all. Amos is presented as a tough guy trying to be strong for his wife and son but also shame as he isn’t being the best father to Gunner. Oyelowo is really relatable and presents this tough guy well but we see the love he has for his son once he goes missing and does his best to find him. Overall, this film is about family and it works well.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS ADDS TO THE MYSTERY AND THRILL OF THE FILM
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The special effects really add to the overall film. The addition of Gunner’s sketchbooks coming to life works well and is very effective in telling the story, as Gunner tries to wish a way into a magical world. To begin with, the sketches coming to life appear as an amusing way to get an insight into Gunner’s mind but by the end, we realise they have a much bigger relevance to the story. However, at the end, we get to see the finished version of Gunner’s novel that he is seen throughout the filmmaking. Which is just a perfect way to end the film. Everything has been thought about and makes this film enjoyable to watch.
THE WATER MAN SHINES A LIGHT ON A DIFFICULT ISSUE SHOWN THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES
The Water Man is a very relatable film as it touches on a subject that a lot of us have dealt with, but told through a child’s eyes who doesn’t completely understand what is happening and obviously has lots of questions. These characters are very human as they all have flaws and we are shown them throughout the film. Each character lies at some point: Mary lies to Gunner about how ill she is; Gunner lies to his parents and runs away; Amos lies to his wife about Gunner’s whereabouts, and Jo lies to everyone.
I enjoyed this film a lot more than I expected. I thought this would just be a film about a boy trying to find a mysterious figure in the woods who grants immortality, and it was, however, it was far more emotional than I was ready for. I didn’t expect to relate to the characters as much as I did. All the characters are broken in some way. The quest is made secondary compared to the characters’ stories about what they are going through. The emotion comes through well due to the excellent cast.
Some people have questioned the pace of the film, thinking it is a little fast how everything comes about. Personally, I think the pace works well because you never lose interest in the film. We are left wondering at the end is, does the Water Man really exist? However, that is the beauty of myths, some believe in them others think they are made up stories that have symbolic meaning.
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