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Sunday, May 10, 2015

THE DROWNSMAN -- DVD Review by Porfle

Creepy in a way that harkens back to such now-vintage horrors as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE DROWNSMAN (2014) scores major points for originality and even more for style. Not to mention an "A" for effort.

After a near-drowning experience that leaves her deathly afraid of water, Madison (Michelle Mylett, ANTISOCIAL) is haunted by delusions--or are they memories?--of being held captive by a hideous fiend in his horrible basement dungeon where he drowns his victims. Even a year later, her fears cause her to miss being maid of honor at the wedding of her friend Hannah (Caroline Korycki), who angrily arranges a group intervention in order to exorcise Madison's seemingly irrational fear of water.

But the "seance" Hannah believes will do the trick backfires when Cathryn (Clare Bastable) turns out to be a real medium and actually invokes the evil spirit of Madison's "Drownsman", who then goes on a reign of terror in which he abducts and drowns Madison's friends one by one. As the death toll mounts, Madison and Hannah realize that their only hope for survival is to somehow track down and confront the supernatural killer in his own dreaded lair.

While relying just as much on jittery jump scares as most other current horror films, THE DROWNSMAN also carefully establishes an overall mood of creeping unease punctuated by moments that are nightmarishly surreal. The ghostly killer can strike anywhere there's water, so we're constantly startled by shots of hands darting out of bathtubs, sinks, washing machines, etc. and dragging people kicking and screaming down the drain.

There's also good use of the kind of dark "anything can happen" dreamworld atmosphere of the original ELM STREET, but without Freddy's smart-ass sense of humor. Scenes such as the one in which Madison, Hannah, and their friend Kobie (Gemma Bird Matheson) are trapped in an elevator that's quickly filling up with water even have a bit of a Dario Argento quality about them that helps elevate the film out of the ordinary. (I also found it reminiscent in certain ways of the surreal Japanese horror film NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE.)

Their venture to a madhouse to talk with the Drownsman's only surviving victim, Isabelle (JoAnn Nordstrom), is equally shiver-inducing as well as revealing. It all builds to a nocturnal visit to the haunted house where the killer's ghost is said to reside, and down into the basement of watery doom itself.

What happens there isn't exactly terrifying, and didn't leave me looking over my shoulder as did such genuinely blood-chilling flicks as THE VICTIM and THE ABANDONED, but director Chad Archibald has a sharp, eye-pleasing visual style and knows how to keep us in suspense. His cast, while not outstanding, fill their roles well and are more than convincing in the more difficult scenes. Steph Copeland's music is robustly effective without blasting our eardrums as so many current horror film scores do.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. No extras.

It's nice to see a modern horror thriller that isn't about a group of ditzy teenagers getting picked off in a secluded cabin by the latest Jason wannabe, or freaking out over scary text messages on their cell phones. THE DROWNSMAN may not give you nightmares, but it's a welcome throwback to a certain kind of imaginative, atmospheric, suburban-Gothic chiller that cropped up now and then during the 70s and 80s. 

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