Canada. Directed by Chad Archibald, 2014. Starring Michelle Mylett, Caroline Korycki, Gemma Bird Matheson, Sydney Kondruss, Clare Bastable, Ry Barrett. 88 minutes.
One of the things that seems to have developed hand-in-hand with the trend in “throwback” horror is an apparent desire to evoke the “glory days” of slasher films, before Scream and its successors turned the subgenre into a winking series of meta-comedies. This has resulted in a steady trickle of slashers with classic plots and setups but modern visuals and sensibilities, such as The Drownsman.
The titular Drownsman was a killer of women (three guesses as to his preferred method of murder), whose reign of terror ended at the hands of a potential victim. Years later, Madison (Michelle Mylett) nearly drowns in an accident, and while unconscious receives a vision of the Drownsman; after coming to, she develops a debilitating fear of water. When she misses her best friend Hannah’s (Caroline Korycki) wedding due to rain, her closest friends perform an “intervention,” staging a fake séance to prove the Drownsman isn’t real. But the plan backfires, and the killer begins hunting them down one by one. Madison and Hannah must uncover the terrifying secret of the Drownsman if they hope to escape with their lives.
Director and co-writer Chad Archibald emphasizes Madison’s fear, her relationships with her girlfriends, and awesome effects sequences. That would be fine, if it seemed as if he and co-writer Cody Calahan don’t seem to have put much thought into these elements other than to say, “Hey, wouldn’t be it be cool if…?” Now, the effects are pretty neat: the Drownsman can use any quantity of water as a portal from his “realm” to the physical world; in one scene, we see him manifest through a small puddle of spilled water on a table, and it works pretty well. But I think other facets of the production would have benefited if the filmmakers thought things through a little more.
For example, the film is riddled with things which might not exactly be logical flaws, but which require some significant figleafing on the part of the audience to gloss over. Let’s start with the one so obvious that even the film’s fans seem honor-bound to apologize for it: Madison suffers her phobia so completely that she fears rain, looks askance at a glass of water, and takes her fluids through an intravenous drip. Yet for someone who demonstrably won’t drink and presumably doesn’t bathe, she’s remarkably clean and (physically) healthy.
She also doesn’t exhibit a fear of the human body (either her own or others’), so she evidently doesn’t know that over half of the average human adult is comprised of water. Neither does the Drownsman, which is probably good for the budget (bursting through people’s bodies would be expensive) but conveniently inconvenient for the killer. Let’s also consider the Drownsman’s backstory, which involves him spending eighteen months in utero. Yes, I could explain it away as an obvious embellishment in an urban legend, but nobody in the film seems to think it’s ridiculous as I do.
If this seems like a bit of rough grading, well…maybe I wouldn’t be inclined to if I cared more about the characters. But other than Madison, I only found one other character I liked: Cathryn, the real medium called in to perform the, let’s remind ourselves here, fake séance (which is honestly a bit of a dick move in and of itself). The filmmakers want to explore how Madison’s phobia affects her relationships, and I get that. But it’s hard to like Hannah, who looks at her best friend, a person whose fear of water is so severe that (it bears repeating) she would rather inject saline solution into her arm than drink a glass of water, and responds “Eh, she just needs to pull herself together.” And the other girlfriends are just as bad. Making it very hard to feel anything other than sharp relief when the Drownsman inevitably greases them.
Admittedly, the film has some positives. Mylett makes a terrific protagonist-slash-Final Girl, and Korycki’s performance makes up a lot of the ground missed by the writing. And, as mentioned earlier, the effects and kills are imaginative and well-executed. But taken as a whole, The Drownsman will not impress anyone other than the most forgiving of slasher fans.