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The Water Man (2020) Film Review

Updated: Jul 18, 2021


Directed by: #DavidOyelowo

Written by: #EmmaNeedell


Desperate to save his ill mother, eleven year-old Gunner (Chavis) runs away from home on a quest to find a mythic figure, rumoured to possess the power to cheat death – the Water Man.

The Water Man (2020) is the directorial debut feature of David Oyelowo, who also stars as Gunner’s father. This adventure/drama movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2020 and Netflix distributed the film internationally on July 13.

The film is a strong debut feature, presenting an intriguing premise and lovely visuals, with the naturalistic aesthetic of the Wild Horse forest creating a calming, immersive colour palette of greens, blues and warm colours of red and orange. There is nothing flashy that stands out about the cinematography, but the cinematic enhancement comes from its vibrant scenery and mystery narrative. The film does have a nice charm to it, where an exposition scene explaining the legend of the Water Man could have been dull is made up for with a hand drawn animated segment, to keep younger viewers engaged.

The Water Man (2020) poster

Gunner makes for an interesting young protagonist, a comic book artist and a bit of a dreamer, tainted by a strained relationship with his father and a special, open relationship with his mother, Mary (Dawson). Mother and son do not share many scenes together before Gunner embarks on his quest, but the times they do interact are very sweet and believable; it is clear they share a strong bond. Gunner’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his father is established well and the exploration of their dynamic throughout offers a strong hook for the family drama to unfold, resulting in a heartfelt and tender resolution by the end. However, the mysterious local girl Jo (Miller), who accompanies Gunner through the forest, could have benefitted from more development as her characterisation does feel quite generic and bland, despite some attempts to gain audience sympathy.

The film can sometimes feel a little underwhelming and the pacing does drop a few times during the middle act when Amos is trying to find Gunner and the kids are wandering about the forest, but the strong acting and enigma surrounding the Water Man do maintain investment. The film picks up the pace during its final act, with a clever and poignant twist to help young viewers think about the mature concepts of the avoidance and acceptance of death. It offers a harmless and safe watch for families, whilst gently exploring darker themes of domestic abuse and loss just enough to not scare kids away.

There are very mature performances from the young cast, especially by standout star Lonnie Chavis, who displays incredible, authentic emotional range from such a young actor. He is definitely one to keep an eye on! The whole cast also deliver great, supportive performances all around.

The ethereal soundtrack, produced by Peter Baert and orchestrated by Matt Dunkley, provides multiple magical and adventurous tracks which emphasis the mystical elements of the screenplay. There is a wonderful sense of childlike wonder to the score, alongside thrilling action pieces, which make for fine listening on their own.

Overall, The Water Man succeeds as an admirable directorial debut from Oyelowo and as an all around entertaining family flick. Although the film could have perhaps improved with more character development, the enticing charm of its visuals, music and performances cannot be overlooked. If your family is looking for a good watch, The Water Man has a nice balance of everything – there should be something for everyone!


The Water Man (2020) trailer:


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