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Boy Meets Myth: A TIFF Review of ‘The Water Man’

September 17, 2020Ben MK

Every town has its urban legends — stories that reflect the history of the place, speaking to a shared experience or a common belief. Whether or not we believe in those urban legends, the fact that they exist as part of a community's shared consciousness is enough to make them feel real. And in the feature directorial debut from David Oyelowo, The Water Man, one boy finds that out firsthand, as he goes in search of the town legend in the hopes of finding a cure for his ailing mother.

A budding artist and an avid book reader, teenage Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) spends his summer nights working on his detective-themed graphic novel and his days doing research on its fictitious main character, Detective Knoxx. When he learns that his mother, Mary (Rosario Dawson), has leukemia, however, Gunner shifts his focus towards learning more about the disease instead. His efforts lead him to the haunting tale of the Water Man, the town myth about a forest-dwelling loner with the uncanny ability to resurrect the dead. But when Gunner and a local girl named Jo (Amiah Miller) get lost in the woods attempting to track down the elusive figure, it's up to Gunner's emotionally distant father, Amos (Oyelowo), to venture into the forest himself and rescue them.

Rooted firmly in the spirit of '80s adventure films like The Goonies and The NeverEnding Story, The Water Man is a story about grief, hope and the healing power of imagination. More than that, however, this is a movie about the importance of family. And even though it doesn't set a new high-water mark for fantasy-themed family dramas, the result still bears valuable lessons for both the old and the young alike.

The Water Man screens under the Special Events programme at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 32 min.

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