A throwback to the horror films of the 80’s, The Drownsman is an attempt to start a new franchise with a villain in the mold of Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorheese, an unstoppable, inhuman killing machine with unnatural powers. As you can guess from the title his powers are linked to water, he can strike through anything and everything from a lake to a small puddle, much like Horrace Pinker could use electrical devices in Shocker or Freddy could use your dreams.
The film begins with a near miss, Madison drunkenly falls into a lake and almost drowns. While underwater she catches a glimpse of The Drownsman and his lair. This leaves her with an extreme case of hydrophobia, (she even takes her liquids via IV bag although that really wouldn’t help). Things come to a head when she bails on her best friend’s wedding due to torrential rain. Her friends stage an intervention to get her over her “imaginary” fears, complete with a psychic and a thing where they immerse her in water, almost like a baptism. Needless to say, the results are not what they hoped for…
Drownsman has a lot going for it, the gimmick of using water as a gateway is a good one with a lot of potential. SyFy used it in Ghost Shark but to a slightly different effect. Rather than simply kill them on the spot Drownsman drags his victims through to his lair where they’re put in “drowning cabinets”. Not a nice way to die, even by movie standards. Also, the lair itself is a creepy looking place, we don’t see much of it, probably due to budgetary reasons, what we do see is dark, grimy and bleak helping to raise the shiver factor a bit more.
The acting is also solid, Michelle Mylett, who was also in the director’s Antisocial is a likable lead, you want her to figure out what’s going on and survive. Ry Barrett is a creepy, imposing presence in the title role. His makeup is effective, reminding me of a cross between the ghosts of the drowned lepers from The Fog and Peter Cushing in Tales from the Crypt. The rest of the cast is various shades of good, no real standouts but no bad performances either.
Chad Archibald, who also directed Antisocial and Bite does a good job again here. He keeps things moving nicely and has a good eye for setting up shots. He’s no Argento but he does pull off some nice camerawork and deliver some interesting kills.
Where the film falls down is the lack of development. We learn almost nothing about the killer’s backstory, just that he was an eighteen pound baby born from an eighteen month pregnancy. No explanation as to why that made him psychotic or where his powers came from. We do however find out that he has a daughter…
Similarly we’re not told a lot about the human characters. How does Madison function with her phobia? She isn’t dirty so she must wash somehow, and how does she hold a job given her issues with going out in the rain? Her best friend Hanna has just gotten married but takes off with her once she sees that the killer is real. But there’s no mention of the husband she’s bailed on. This could have made for a great subplot and dramatic tension, instead it’s just a gaping plot hole. Also in the plot hole category, how Madison figured out how to defeat the Drownsman, and why it would work, are both unexplained. Granted I didn’t notice that til after the film was over, but it is a big hole.
Despite this, The Drownsman is still a good film and worth watching. The end sets itself up for a sequel and I’d like to see it happen, especially if it fills in the main character’s backgrounds.