You have to respect a filmmaker who has the audacious zeal to challenge horror’s heaviest-hitting slashers, and that’s exactly what director Chad Archibald and co-writer Cody Calahan attempt to do with The Drownsman. We haven’t had an iconic killer come along since Scream‘s Ghostface, dating back to the 90s, and very few filmmakers have been able to summon a truly franchise-worthy villain since entering the 2000s (partially because everyone is too damn busy remaking other people’s mastery). I’d say Adam Green came the closest with Hatchet, since Victor Crowley has been able to sustain three franchise entries, but could The Drownsman be the next Freddy? Jason? Hell, at least a Leprechaun?
Sadly, that answer is a pretty hard no – but The Drownsman isn’t a total wash (HA!). Archibald’s gruesome fable tells of a serial killer named Sebastian Donner (Ry Barrett), who becomes known as The Drownsman because of his favorite method of murder. As legend dictates, Donner drowns his female victims because he spent too long in the womb, and he wants to hear each woman’s heartbeat rippling through the water. He’s eventually killed by a would-be victim, but when police scour his dingy lair for a body, Donner’s corpse is nowhere to be found.
Jumping forward in time, it’s not long before we meet Madison (Michelle Mylett) and her friends, who are the newest targets that Donner has picked. Focusing primarily on Madison, Donner uses her friends as bait, daring her to overcome an “irrational” fear of water – you know, the life-saving liquid that covers about 70% of our Earth? That’s the catch – Donner can only appear while connected to water in some way, which leads to some pretty brutal kill-sequences, but also a few laughable instances where Donner’s soaking arm pops out of a desk, only because of the tiniest puddle. Much like Freddy Krueger (minus Freddy Vs. Jason), he can only harm you when safely in his habitat, surrounded by evil, lung-collapsing H2O.
Archibald and Calahan are ambitious visionaries who go for broke on their fresh slasher concept, but Sebastian Donner is Frankensteined from far too many longstanding cliches. Taking notes from mute maulers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Donner’s undead form relies on a hulking physicality for scares, topped with greasy streaks of sopping-wet hair that cover up his blue, slick skin. But despite The Drownsman’s imposing nature, his whole “teleporting through water” shtick is a bit goofy, in that he can literally transport you through a Dixie cup if he wanted. Then you wake up in Donner’s shack (another realm), where he drowns you in a vast array of tubs, traps, and other closed tanks of water.
Playing along with the concept’s gimmick, every death involves drowning in some way. Don’t get me wrong, being locked in a sealed container while water slowly rises could be my biggest irrational fear, but in a slasher film, repeated drownings don’t offer much variety. Think of what makes Freddy Krueger such a memorable killer – the kills themselves. Each death is punctuated by an insane appetite for destruction, and also wild bouts of imagination. Donner, on the other hand, only wields a weapon of repetition. The Drownsman starts out as a refreshing bit of horror lore, but after enough time passes, the film becomes waterlogged after sitting in the same stagnant pool of hopeful terrors.
Getting past the story, performances, and regular cinematic components, The Drownsman reveals itself to be a lousy excuse for a Blu-Ray. I’ve seen some lackluster efforts burned to disk before, but whoever was in charge of sound quality must have been pulled into a water bottle before finishing the job. There are two glaring moments when characters are talking, and the audio quality sounds like it’s being filtered through an iPhone. This tinny, off-kilter overdub sounds nothing like the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio classification, and sounds more like it’s being transferred through two cans and a string. The 1080p visuals aren’t anything to write home about, but The Drownsman’s saturated green lair does make for a creepy atmosphere, and a few bursts of color from a lit flair provide some other glistening screengrabs – but that’s about it. At least the visuals don’t show any signs of error, unlike the shoddy audio track.
As far as special features go, here’s what lurks under the surface:
Seriously. There isn’t a single special nugget hidden anywhere on this Blu-Ray. Not even a director’s commentary or quick little interview snippet. It’s a shame because as a horror fan, I would have loved to hear how The Drownsman was born as a slasher hopeful, and what old-school influences spawned such a water-logged monster. But, alas, not a single attempt was made to beef up Chard Archibald’s latest tale of terror. Between the lack of additional goodies and inexcusable transfer glitches, buyers are going to be quite disappointed by such a haphazardly bare-bones assembly.
As a film, The Drownsman dares to attempt something different, but capsizes after charting the same waters scene by scene. As a Blu-Ray, The Drownsman sinks harder than the Titanic. None of the actresses strike a particularly memorable chord, Canadian accents fly aboot with no restraint, and The Drownsman himself doesn’t provide the imposing adversary our nightmares so desperately cry for. Unless pruney skin is your greatest phobia, skip The Drownsman and revel in the camp-tastic classics of yesteryear – especially if you’re thinking of giving this Blu-Ray a purchase.
The Drownsman is a fresh concept, but can we really be scared by a monster who could be lurking in a water bottle?